I’m not sure when my family’s web and videogame addiction first began, as it crept up slowly on us. Signs were everywhere had we been able to see them: our 18-month-old stealing the iPhone from his dad’s pocket to play a learning game; our 4-year-old tantruming when we took away the iPad he used for watching educational YouTube videos, and our 6-year-old weeping uncontrollably when computer time was over.
I know that I definitely began to take notice when my 7-year-old stopped playing with other children, became more moody, violent and had no sense of others. When we took away “his” computer, he threatened to run away because we were unfair. That is the moment I woke up and admitted to myself that my family had a cyber addiction, and I had to put an end to it!
What made the addiction more difficult to detect, was that many of the online games the kids played were educational. I thought my toddler was doing well learning his letters, numbers, colours and shapes on the iPhone! And that my grade 1 child was a super-genius for learning high school biology via an online e-course! So, it had been easy for me to write off hours of computer, smartphone, and tablet time as educational, instead of perceiving it as a family threat.
The first thing I did to regain control of my family, was take away all of the household devices. It was a terrible time in our home, with weeping, screaming, aggression and threats (originating from our older kids). My oldest child thought he would get the better of me, and tried to sneak in iPad time during the night. He was successful, until I found it hidden under his pillow before bed! Gotcha!
My husband thought my ban of all smart devices to be too radical, so we decided that one child may use the computer, smartphone or tablet for 30 minutes at a time, once every 3 days. This has worked out perfectly for us, as all 5 of our kids “piggy back” on each other’s time. Of course, we still oversee the children’s time, and help them select suitable content that is age appropriate.
Now that my family has weathered a cyber addiction, I will pass on this piece of advice. Videogames and the internet, even in the guise of educational content, can be highly addictive. Be sure to monitor your kids’ online and videogame activities, limit usage and know when it is time to shut down—before it becomes a problem!
This article was written by me, Jenna Em, and appears in the Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 issue of the Kuklamoo blog.