A Family Tries ‘iPad Rehab’ to Battle Screen Addiction

The American family is under attack by an insidious foe of our own creation: the portable video device.

Excessive use of smartphones, iPads and similar technological marvels is limiting our kids’ experience of childhood, stunting their social development, testing our parenting abilities, and causing turmoil within countless families — including mine.

I’ve commiserated about this problem with co-workers, clients, neighbors and golf buddies.

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On a recent Sunday, after watching three of my boys waste a beautiful afternoon sitting in the family room staring into their iPads with barely a word to one another, I decided to do something about our family’s screen addiction. Something drastic.

While there are many strategies for breaking a video addiction, I chose cold turkey. I gathered up the “crack pads” and took them to my office. They will stay in a desk drawer until my wife and I can redefine our family’s relationship with mobile digital technology.

I call this “iPad Rehab” and I’m sharing our progress on ClarkHoward.com as the journey unfolds in the coming weeks. My hope is that we will all learn something about how to combat this very real problem.

Screen time is a thief. It steals time and attention from other important activities, including family interactions and other interpersonal relationships. It can also steal a child’s health and well-being.

Kids under 2 years old should have NO screen time, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A baby’s rapidly growing brain needs near-constant physical play and human interaction to properly develop. Older kids should be limited to two hours per day (!) of video use. That boundary allows time for more important activities, including sports, outdoor play, reading, imaginative free play and hobbies.

When video eats into time for such activities, schoolwork can suffer, sleep becomes difficult, and obesity is more of a threat.

What bothers me, and drove me to launch iPad Rehab, is the social isolation that occurs when kids consume entertainment on a personal video device. The iPads have muscled out our family’s communal experiences, like watching a movie together, even if the show isn’t the first choice of every kid.

Similarly, because everybody can get exactly the media they want on demand, my kids miss out on the valuable experience of negotiating with siblings, as I had to do with my brothers when the only source of video entertainment was the family’s one TV.

I’m not alone in this concern about isolation. In a 2015 New York Times article about screen addiction, a grandfather lamented that his grandkids no longer talk to him on car rides because their heads are buried in phones or tablets. The experts expressed concern with that situation as well, noting that in-car conversations with a parent are an important way for kids to process their experiences, problems and fears with a caring adult.

We parents are ultimately responsible for this problem. We use the iPad as a baby sitter. And we give up too easily when our kids refuse to surrender the device after the agreed-upon time limit. Admit it. Sometimes it’s just easier to avoid the fight and let them keep playing.

What’s more, most of us are addicted to our devices, typically our phones. It’s hard to lecture a kid about losing himself in his iPad when he sees you hypnotized by your work email.

If we’re going to help our kids, we need to show that we can do hard things. We need to be firm with the guidelines we set, even when the kids protest. And we need to engage with them rather than tossing them the iPad at times when we’d rather be relaxing or catching up on work.

I’ve learned a lot about all those hard things during our iPad Rehab. We’ve had some promising experiences and some miscues. My kids have called me 20 variations of “worst dad ever” and accuse me of forcing them to live in “Abraham Lincoln times.” My wife was initially angry with my solution, and, yes, I have to invest a lot of time in this process.

But there is no question in my mind that breaking my kids’ screen addiction is worth all the pain and effort. And the whining can’t go on forever.

Can it?

Read the original article in AJC.