I didn’t think it was possible for a pre-schooler to have addictions. I was wrong. The I-Phone has won his heart. And every minute of his day is wrapped up in playing with it, thinking about it, and asking for it. When he was 2, it was cute. “Oh look at him! He is learning technology!” At 3, we said, “Wow, that kid can navigate his way around that thing better than us. When he’s an adult, he’ll be the next Steve Jobs, and he’ll make us rich! Woo hoo!” He could actually search Google and find toys that he wanted us to buy him at Target. Or he would post his Angry Birds high scores on my Facebook page. This was getting weird. By 4, he would wake up in the morning and say, “Iphone?” And when I would pick him up at preschool, he would excitedly cry, “Mommy! Iphone!” As if the 2 of us were equal in his heart.
When he wasn’t watching You Tube, playing Angry Birds or purchasing new apps, he was asking to. If I told him to play with physical toys, he wasn’t interested. I’d threaten to throw away toys when he would leave them out. He would say, “Okay.” At church, he’d rather sit with me and play on the Iphone than go to Sunday school with all of his buddies.
I’ve heard all the negative warnings about children and technology: Don’t let them watch TV until they are school age. Don’t let them be on screens more than an hour per day. Screens cause attention issues. Don’t give in. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Uh huh. And those people DON’T live in this century. Everyone in my house communicates and lives through screens, and so does everyone on the other end of those screens that they’re talking with. And so I drowned out the negative warnings about technology by hanging out with people like me and convincing myself that Zach’s spiritual gift is technology.
Until that day when the Iphone received more love from Zach than I was getting. And when I discovered that my “Unlimited Usage” Plan is in, fact, limited.
I called a family meeting with my husband and 2 older boys. While Zach played on the Iphone, we had a chat. “It’s time for an intervention,” I said. “We are pulling the Iphone from Zach, cold turkey. No more. Nada. Zip. That kid’s brain is still developing, and it’s not normal for him to be that obsessed with the Iphone. He needs a break. I realize most computer geeks aren’t normal, and our family is far from normal, but there’s still hope for Zach. Time to pull the plug.”
We all sat there, wondering what that meant. Would we now have to interact with him? Actually play with him? We couldn’t just stick him in a corner with the phone and go about our business? Nope. I realized we were a family of co-dependents, and when the alcoholic gave up his alcohol, the rest of us were going to have to figure out how to interact with a sober Zach. Unfortunately, there are no Al-Anon groups for techies like us. Or not that we know of. And what family attends those meetings because the 4 year old in the family has the addiction? This was unknown territory for all of us.
“If Zach asks you for the IPhone, here’s what you do,” I coached. ‘Sorry Zach, no. But I’ll play blocks with you.’ And then actually play blocks with him.”
There were a lot of long pauses in this conversation as the boys and my husband were trying to think through actually having to put down their own Iphones and Ipods to play with him.
“And you guys need to tone down your screen time, too,” I barked. “It’s out of control around here. Those things are growing out of your hands and have become extensions of you. Maybe we ALL need an intervention.”
“But we need ours, “ my 6th grader piped in. “We use them for school.”
“Uh huh. Videos on You Tube you use for school?” Another long pause.
“We’ll talk about you people later. Back to Zach. If you MUST use your screens, hide them behind a magazine or book and act like you’re reading. Or go to your room where he can’t see you.” I realized I sounded absurd. That my world had become so technologically oriented that none of us would survive if we pulled the plug on everyone, and so we would live a lie by hiding our screen use in hopes of saving the smallest one.
“Now, here’s what we can expect from Zach,” I continued. “There will be whining and crying and lots of tantrums. We have to stay strong. Do your best to distract him and get him interested in something else. Actually read him a physical book with pages. Play a board game with him.” Again, more blank stares as I assumed they were wondering where the real books and games were. Did we have those?
“If it gets too hard, call in Back Up. I’ll come and help. We can do this. We have to do it for Zach. It’s too late for all of us, but there’s still hope for Zach. Let’s do this for Zach!”
Long sighs, but agreement from all, even the biggest offender of technology, the Father. From Apple TV and Xbox, to all things I-things and laptops, and what the-heck-is-a-Sling-Box-thing, we were going to have to figure out how to live in, or at least act like we were living in, the physical world when Zach was around. Was it possible?
I immediately went to Facebook to post about it:
Day 1: The Iphone Intervention begins. I lied to Zach and told him it was dead and needed to be charged...a lot. He believed me.
Day 3: So far, withdrawal symptoms have been mild. No tantrums. No twitching. Maybe he still thinks it’s charging. Or even better, broken.
Day 6: Zach is building a tower of pillows to reach the Iphone on top of a tall cabinet. We are horrible parents. I am proud of Ethan who didn’t cave when Zach asked him, “Ethan can you get it for me?” Ethan told him, “Sorry Zach. It’s too high for me. But I’ll play blocks with you.” Uncle Danny, on the other hand, offered to send little Zach a fishing pole.
Day 8: Ethan’s history grade slips into D range, and he loses HIS Iphone privileges. HIS withdrawal symptoms are outrageous. Lots of tantrums and twitching. It’s HELL in my house... to say the least.
Day 11: Ecstatic on 2 levels: Ethan’s grade goes up in history and his phone is returned, and so is my sanity and love for my son, and HIS sanity and love for me. Zach seems to be doing really well sans Iphone! He is actually playing with physical toys and interacting with humans! I love this.
Day 12: I text a friend: “Guess What? The airlines actually found and returned Jeff’s lost Ipad!” Her response: “Awesome! Too bad Zach is in rehab...”
Day 13: Jeff flies out of town, and I have to take Zach to preschool, knowing he will cry when I drop him off. And so, I think of the best bribe I can, which means I cave: “Zach, if you will go to preschool and NOT cry when I drop you off, I will let you play with the Iphone AND take you to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal.” I pulled out the big guns and got the resounding “YES!” that I wanted. Even though he didn’t totally man up but actually started to cry when I dropped him off, when I repeated “Iphone and Happy Meal!” he refocused, stopped crying and said, “Okay!” and went into preschool.
I just bribed my kid with the 2 worst things for him. Zach didn’t fall off the wagon; I bribed him off the wagon! What is wrong with me? Sigh. I know. I’m human. And darn it, we want our kids to be happy. And we fight all the time between making them happy and making them holy. Heck man, I fight every day between making MYSELF happy or holy! Because those can be at opposite ends of the spectrum sometimes.
Thank God for His grace and His mercies that are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23). That His kindness leads me to repentance! (Romand 2:4) And it’s THESE characteristics of God that motivate me to get back up and try again. To love God more and more, wanting to please Him with my efforts. Thank you God for loving us so much when we feel like failures! Let me love others this same way!
And so now I sit here, pondering my next move in this game called Life as a Mother. Yes, I will pick Zach up from preschool and take him to McDonald’s for his Happy Meal and Iphone time I promised him, and then it’s back on the wagon. Refocus. Be strong.
And it’s quite possible that this little techie family of 5 will be starting an “Iphones Anonymous” for other families just like us. In the meantime, I’ll text a few friends and see what they think.