Addicted to Pixels

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Something had gone horribly wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something wasn’t right. It was almost as if someone had cast a spell on my children. They were not themselves. Walking zombies. Eyes glazed over. Emotions a wreck. Sensitive to everything and tears came easily. Mouthy and disrespectful. And we’re not talking teenagers. We’re talking a 9 and a 6-year-old.

I first noticed the mood swings. Both of my kids are pretty mellow. But, during the past summer, both of them were so moody and hard to deal with. I chalked it up to the lack of routine summer often brings.

Then I noticed the lack of motivation. Neither of them wanted to do anything but sit around and watch television, watch videos on the laptop, or play games on the iPad. This concerned me because both of my kids are normally very active and creative. Typically, their energy is hard to match. I assumed it was the heat summer brings and they didn’t want to go outside and play.

Next, I started realizing they were not playing with their toys that didn’t require charging. Like dolls, LEGOs, books, games, puzzles, etc. Their play set in the backyard was covered in dust. I don’t remember them swinging on the swings all summer long. I would force them outside and they would sit on the porch and stare out into the yard.

Lastly, I noticed the aimless way they went through their days. Almost zombie like. This freaked me out. Nothing I did could snap them back to reality. They would stare off into space. I am not exaggerating. It was almost as if they were focused on something in another realm so intently that they couldn’t do life. They were sleepwalking through reality.

I asked both of them multiple times, what’s wrong? What are you thinking about? The answers I got from both of them were, “I don’t know,” or “I’m tired.” As a mom who spends a lot of time with her children, I knew something was not right. Something was out of balance. I was ready to take drastic measures. But, I couldn’t figure out what to do.

During the school year, things were fine. It seemed as if the unstructured summer months created a monster that I had yet been able to identify. I couldn’t wait for school to start back. I was hoping the structure and routine would help them snap back to their old selves. Surely this wasn’t permanent? I don’t like zombies!

We started school in early August. And it was hard. I mean really hard. All three of us cried most days. They would rush through their work. Callie would read her Nancy Drew books, but that was about it. Sean would just stare off into space if I wasn’t sitting next to him helping him focus. I was getting worried.

Everyone I talked with about my concerns thought I was being overly concerned. I felt like I was losing my kids and I had no idea what to do! No one could see what I was seeing.  We slogged through the first 3 weeks of school.

Then we left for Disney World. I was hoping and praying the change in scenery would help everyone. I randomly announced on the way to Florida that “screen time” would be off-limits while we were at Disney. No computer, television, iPad, etc. Even mom and dad agreed to no “screen time”. It was going to be a fun-filled week of adventure. I couldn’t wait!

Disney World was amazing. More than any of us could have imagined. I began to see glimpses of my kids pre-summer. They were energetic, creative, and most of all in touch with reality. Now, I know Disney World is not like real life, but my kids were slowly returning.

Vacation over, the kids played games on the iPad all the way home. Yes. ALL THE WAY HOME.

When we got back to NC, my zombies were back. Then, it hit me. FINALLY. The screens. The computer, iPad, and television. It is another reality and my kids have been spending way too much time in Pixel Land. They had been pixelated.

Indeed, something was terribly wrong and it was all my fault. My kids do what I allow them to do. I would never harm them on purpose, but what I allowed for several months in my home did harm them. And it all started out so innocuously. So much so that no one noticed until major changes had taken place.

Screens dramatically affect my kids. Their moods, their behavior, their minds, their lives. They  have a hard time coming back to the real world when they are asked to put the screens away.

As I thought about the past 3 to 4 months, it all began to make sense. They had limited screen time during the school year, but during the summer, those limitations were lifted by their loving and caring mother. I felt sick to my stomach. They didn’t do this to themselves. I allowed it to happen. But, this also meant that I had the power to stop it.

It was around 9pm on the Sunday night after we got back from Disney World and we were having our weekly family meeting. I announced that we would be screen free for the next week. You would have thought I announced we were moving to Antarctica. They both melted down and cried, “Why, mom? We didn’t play games or watch television all week at Disney!”

I explained to them why we were going to be screen free. After the tears stopped and they could hear me, they both settled down and shared what was on their hearts. Here are several observations they shared:

“Mom, when I play the iPad, I go into another orbit. I don’t know what happens to me.”
“I think Minecraft should be called Mindcraft because it affects my mind.”
“Playing electronics and watching TV all the time makes me feel almost mad.”
“It’s like I get sucked in. I can’t stop thinking about it even when I’m not playing it.”

Wow. I was the one in tears when we said our prayers and kissed good night. But, I knew something was about to change. And this change would be good for us. All of us.

The first week without screens went as expected, horribly. The withdrawals were intense. We were dealing with addiction. Addicted to pixels. What a revelation. And to think it was going on for so long beneath the radar of my watchful eyes. I felt violated by the pixelization of my children.

The second week without screens was much better. My eyes, now opened to this silent pixel invader, began to see glimpses of my kids. My real kids. Not the zombies who had been sleeping in my kids’ beds. They built forts in the back yard, LEGO masterpieces in the play room, and held tea parties for all of their stuffed animal friends. Both have read, painted, and created more in the past month than they did all summer.

During week three, we gave the screens back. With limitations. 30 minutes after school work had been completed and 30 minutes after dinner. This one hour daily total includes all screens, computer, iPad, and television. They set a timer and self-monitor.

But, the craziest thing of all? They don’t even ask for screen time anymore! This summer, they asked incessantly. ALL THE TIME.

Now, almost every night while we are saying goodnight and tucking them in, one of them will say, “Mom, I didn’t even use my screen time today! Wow, how did that happen?”

calliereadtosean

It happened because your mom started paying attention. And gave you guidelines by which to live your life. I’ve apologized to both of them. Both have given me grace. But more than that, I have my kids back. My creative, outdoor loving, energetic kids. My house is a mess. The noise level while they are playing is almost deafening, but they are no longer sleepwalking through reality. They are fully aware of the world around them.

My kids, no longer addicted to pixels, are addicted to playing. That’s an addiction I can fully support without limitations!

 

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced something similar with your kids? I would love to hear from you!

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Comments

  1. Could not agree more.

  2. This is great stuff, Lizzie! I am so encouraged by it, as zombies live at my house, too (and I’m sometimes one of them).

    I’m curious – do you limit your screen time, too? I ask because that’s the other place I fall short. Because I use my computer for work and for writing, I have a hard time eliminating it completely, but have trouble finding a happy medium (esp. b/c I can get energized by facebook and blogs like yours).

    Also, I’d be interested if anyone else is dealing with teens or pre-teens. They are a slightly different animal and I’m curious how others deal with them.

    Great, thought-provoking article!

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