The Day the i-Pad Wandered Off To Die …

… my ten year-old son and I did a KenKen together at breakfast.

My son had to inject some 10-year-old humour into it…

And then, after school, we raided his older brother’s bookshelf and found some new-to-him books — The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Klutz Encyclopedia of Immaturity (volumes I and II; we seemingly really wanted to encourage immaturity in our older son) — which he pored over all afternoon, alternately rapt and giggling.

So, of course — needless to say — the i-Pad didn’t actually wander off to die.

I had hidden the damn thing.

And the reason I had hidden the damn thing was because I had decided, early that morning this past fall, that I had simply had enough.

Enough of time limits on devices which were constantly being stretched; enough of me nagging him over and over and over again to get off; enough of me wondering how the heck we had progressed from him being allowed to watch amazingly cool and creative videos on MinuteEarth or MinutePhysics or CGP Grey to him being immersed in — addicted to! — the utterly inane world inhabited by Minecraft YouTubers.

And perhaps, had I not been in such a foul and fragile mood that day, I would have simply ‘fessed up. I would have been, you know, an adult and told him I had taken it away. I would have told him that he was spending too much time on it, and that that time was pre-empting other more important things, things like reading books, or perusing Popular Science or National Geographic or Muse, or playing with Lego, or just plain conversing with me as I stood there in the kitchen making his lunch while he ate his breakfast.

But because it was last fall and I was neck-deep in an existentialistic grinchy funk and my husband was away yet again, for the whole freaking week, I took the easy way out.

I lied played dumb.

So when he asked, that morning, Hey, Mom, do you know where the i-Pad went? I simply said, Huh! Is it not on the couch? Well, then I dunno…

Remarkably, it took three days (three days of a wholehearted effort on my part to distract distract distract) before the truth came out.

We were walking home from school when he floated yet another query of Where the heck could that i-Pad have gone?!

Sighing internally, knowing I was going to have to tell him sooner or later that I had imperiously made up some new rules (no technology Monday through Friday afternoon), but suddenly inspired (and truth-be-told, desperately wanting to inject some humour into what I suspected would shortly be an angry situation), I said, “Hey, you know how old our i-Pad is, right?”

(Very, in case you’re wondering; he rattled off something about generation two.)

“And you know how it hasn’t been working properly recently?”

(He agreed. It was a very annoying i-Pad as of late; even I had noticed that.)

“And you know what some animals do when they get old and sick?”

(I didn’t give him time to answer, reflecting as soon as the words left my lips that it was his brother who had been animal-crazy, not him.)

“They wander off to die!” I announced.

(So, yes, I’ve since looked this up. Um, that’s right: specifically for this post. (Yes, I may be a bit of a nerd). And it turns out this wandering off to die thing may actually be a myth.)

My son looked at me funny and said, “The i-Pad did not wander off to die, Mom!”

(At this point — no word of a lie — I had a sudden vision of my son, as an adult, pushing his frail and elderly mother out onto an ice floe. And it occurred to me that I would perhaps one day sorely regret ever putting this nugget of an idea into his head.)

And then the jig was up.

“You took it, didn’t you?” he suddenly accused. “Where did you hide it?”

Ah … I tell ya, hardly a day goes by that I don’t feel slightly sorry for my kids, saddled as they are with me for a mother …

Because my son didn’t have a hope-in-hell of arguing me down from my position.

In the first place, I am, and always have been, a bit of a Luddite. When I was in university, I typed my term papers and essays on a manual typewriter, despite the fact that there was not only a perfectly good electric typewriter in the house, but also one of those early you-know-you’re-a-nerdy-geek-if-you-actually-have-one computers (complete with word processing capabilities and a dot matrix printer!), sitting there, waiting for use, in my father’s basement study.

Making matters worse for my son is the fact that his Luddite mother has an inherent, nearly supercilious, do-something-constructive-with-your-time!, distrust of video games. An attitude, I admit, that is borne of ignorance and compounded by idealism: I have never — not once — played Pac Man; I don’t get the point of Angry Birds or SimCity (even though I can appreciate the fact that my husband and son get a kick out of playing them together); the fact that tweens play Grand Theft Auto makes me despair for humanity; and I greet claims of superior hand-eye coordination, which are floated as an excuse for all of it, with a shake of the head and a heavy bit of eye-rolling. And while I know for a fact that there are indeed PLENTY of video-game-playing-kids who grow up to lead perfectly normal lives (cue the utterances of So then shut the hell up, mom who doesn’t know anything, yet somehow has a blog), that fact fails to change how I feel about them.

The second battle my ten year-old son faces has to do with his siblings. As you may have noticed, we have a rather wide age gap between our first two children (who are now 19 and 17 years of age) and our youngest, who is a month away from his eleventh birthday. This means we have a bit of a social science experiment going on in our household: because we didn’t buy into the need to get computer games for our older two kids, AND because we were late adopters of home internet service, our older two essentially passed the first decade or so of their lives computer and video game free. Our youngest, on the other hand, cannot remember a time when we didn’t have a computer or the internet.

And here’s the thing: I can tell the difference.

Although it’s not fair to compare children, it hasn’t escaped my notice that our youngest isn’t quite the reader that the older two were, both of whom became voracious readers with little to no prodding on my part. They read all the time — books, magazines, encyclopedias — anything they could get their hands on. And while their young lives weren’t technology-free — they watched plenty of children’s programming on TV — there seems to be something fundamentally different about TV-watching versus gaming, or even TV-watching versus what I’ll term I’m-just-going-to-click-one more-link internet browsing.

This past weekend I was listening to Spark, a program on CBC radio, and they had a really good segment on why your kid can’t turn off a game when you ask, and holy moly hello … this is finally addressing the refrain I hear constantly from friends who have kids the same age as my youngest. We’re all going through the same thing, and yet there still seems to be that myth out there, that subtle parental put-down that says you’re not doing your job as a parent if your child is hooked to a screen.

I ran up against this perception at a meeting last spring with the resource teacher, when upon discussing my youngest and listing off activities he enjoyed, I confessed that he was rather more fond of the i-Pad than I would have liked. Her response was a cut-and-dry, matter-of-fact “Set limits!”, to which I replied, rather testily, “I DO set limits! The problem is that it’s addictive. I can tell my son to get off and he’ll say just a sec. Two minutes later, I will tell him once again to get off and he’ll say just a sec. And on and on it goes, until 20 minutes half an hour 45 minutes later, I am having to physically wrench the device from his hands!”

(Thank goodness there was a younger teacher in the meeting with us. She chimed in at that point and said, “Devices ARE addictive; I’ve even noticed that with my own use.”)

So when I finally did have a proper I’m the adult and you’re the child and here’s what I’ve been observing conversation with my son, he — amazingly — understood my point. And we have managed to keep him technology-free Monday through Friday afternoon ever since. I’m happy to report he’s reading WAY more than he used to. He’s helped me on a few more KenKens. He’s been devouring the Popular Science magazines that we subscribe to. He’s even occasionally been dipping into the encyclopedias, just as his older brother used to do.


I should probably leave this story here, but it seems I’m utterly incapable of leaving out this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction twist at the end, despite the fact that it hints at just a bit of dysfunction in an otherwise strong 25 year-long marriage:

Here’s what happened when Friday rolled around after that first technology-free week, and my technology-loving-Angry Bird-appreciating-I-love-her-but-why-is-my-wife-such-a-Luddite husband came home from his business trip (to a province with a lower sales tax, I have to add (in an ominous foreshadowy sorta way 😉 )):

My husband (henceforth known as “my child’s father”) commiserated with our ten year-old son, who wasted no time in telling him what his mother had done, to which my child’s father replied, “Yes, I heard about that!”. And when my son turned to me and said, “Hey, Mom! It’s Friday evening! Where’s the i-Pad?”, my child’s father said, “No need…” and pulled out a brand new one.

Humph …

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11 thoughts on “The Day the i-Pad Wandered Off To Die …

  1. I LOVE THIS POST.

    I could kill the person (who shall remain nameless) who thought my children each needed their own individual iPad mini. This year and last year Violet has given hers up for Lent and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy that (and kept trying to convince her brother to do the same). Because I hate them. (Except for our 10 hour car ride to/from Michigan each year. They are pretty handy then.) I spend so much time trying to hide them because from my own experience, I KNOW they make my kids crabby.

    I’m so grateful I grew up in a time where 1) tech wasn’t EVERYWHERE and 2) my parents were those mean, mean, mean people who wouldn’t let me get an Atari or Nintendo because “they just rot your brain out”. Jess and I were talking about getting a Wii for the family this last year for Christmas (we ultimately decided against it) and it would have been the very first “game system” I ever owned. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Kate 🙂 !

      I would have been absolutely LIVID if my children had been given their own iPads from some “well-meaning” and/or “generous” relative. In fact, I probably would have gone so far as to refuse the gift, no matter how rude that would have been. I just think it’s totally not for someone else to decide what and when technology gets introduced into our children’s lives.

      As to the crabbiness — YES! I can absolutely feel the difference in my son (and I am most definitely less crabby because I’m now not having to nag him about it all the time).

      I’m also grateful to have grown up without technology. I do wish though that my parents had had better rules about TV: I watched stuff I probably shouldn’t have been watching at way too young an age. My husband and I have also, in the past, talked about getting a Wii, and each time decided against it. There’s just so much other good stuff you can do together as a family (games, puzzles, playing outside, etc) and we always worried about the whole slippery slope thing — that yes, it might be fun to pretend to bowl, say, but that having the device would then just open the door to other less family-friendly games.

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      1. Marian:
        When I watched my first and last Mad Max film recently, I was horrified to think that that is the kind of junk kids are watching today in the movies and..without doing deep research…I’m sure on their electronic devices. It’s shocking what is out there to rot the kids’ brains and train them to be heartless, cruel, and vulgar. I fear for the future as I read about the current heartless and cruel killings happening every day in America. And the current tattoo craze, which somehow I lay at the foot of electronic contagious diseases, is vulgar as can be.
        Your writing tickles me, as I’m another Luddite. I have hundreds, thousands, maybe, photographs on my old Mac Pro. When it nearly wore out i replaced the battery so the photos wouldn’t be lost, and bought an Air. Without proper research. No disks to save photos and retrieve them on. The photo program in the new machine works differently and i couldn’t be bothered to figure it out. So no photos to send out….unless the old machine will last til i die. Does this make sense? Cheers from one luddite to another.

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      2. Hi MJ!
        I too, am horrified by much of what I see in movies and on the internet! I don’t have any hard research either, and I know naysayers would claim the world has always been a violent place, but I can’t help but think all that exposure (especially when it’s repeated over and over) has GOT to have some effect on children’s brains, even if it’s “just” desensitization to violence (as opposed to being a direct cause of violence). And it’s so incredibly hard to keep one’s own kids from being exposed to it, when “everyone else” seems to be allowing it!

        Your computer woes make TOTAL sense to me! Here’s to hoping your old Mac Pro simply keeps going!

        And many thanks for taking the time to leave a comment … it made my morning 🙂 .

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  2. So much I might say, if only I had the time. I have such mixed feelings. I guess it boils down to this: Like guns, these devices can be used for good or evil. Actually, as I type these words, I’m thinking there are a lot of parallels between guns and digital tools/toys.

    My son’s greatest intellectual stimulation comes from playing complex, historically-based strategy games on the computer. He’s pretty much ruined for most board games of the same genre because they just aren’t as challenging, complex. They can’t be. This says a lot about my son’s education and about learning.

    At the same time, I curse the family member who gave him a smart phone without consulting me back when he was in middle school. It’s absolutely addictive and hasn’t been a healthy thing for him.

    I feel I am in constant battle with the members of my family to put the damn things down. All of them, including my grown-up partner. As with just about everything in life, I think it’s a question of balance.

    I think you’re lucky that your son was able to see it and to go along with your limits. We’ve experimented with all kinds of different ways of making limits. None were ever perfect or completely satisfactory. I think the biggest thing is to just be really mindful about what purpose the tech is serving and why you’re using it. I think we have to teach our kids about this–because their world is so different from the one we grew up in, and it’s stupid to think we can somehow create for them what we had. (We can’t.) When my daughter was in middle school I reluctantly gave in to her desire for a FB account because I finally decided I wanted to be the one to teach her about social media (which was different even then from now), at an age when she’d still listen to me. I’m glad I did.

    Keep fighting the good fight. It’s a hard one.

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    1. I completely agree with you about the fact that our devices can be used for good or evil (and by evil I’m just meaning not good, or time-wasting, or “brain rotting” 😉 as Kate’s parents told her when she was young). When my ten year-old was watching MinuteEarth or MinutePhysics at breakfast I was completely OK with it, because I reasoned that this was simply the 6 years-on “techie” version of what had been my older son’s breakfast habit (ie. reading encyclopedias). I didn’t have a problem with him playing Minecraft either, because I reasoned he was being creative by building houses, worlds, etc. I think that had he stuck to “good” stuff like that (ie. creative and/or educational), none of this would have happened. Somehow though, he stopped playing Minecraft himself, and began instead to just watch these YouTubers who were playing Minecraft and recording their daily 30 minute (or so) jaunts around the worlds that THEY had created, and it was seeing my son spending so much time watching stuff like this that really made me look hard at what he was doing.

      I do really feel he is a happier kid now than he was when he was “wasting” so much of his time on this stuff. And I have no evidence to back up this next theory, but I really feel that when we spend our time in productive ways (accomplishing something by either being creative or learning or reading (I would classify reading, even fiction, as accomplishing something, and I can also see that an historically-based strategy computer game would fit the bill as well)) we feel better about ourselves, versus how we feel inside when we spend our time in ways we *know* are just time-wasting occupations. I think it’s human nature (even in children!) to want to feel useful and productive (not that we don’t also need “escape”, but I think all-escape-all-the-time is probably hard on a person’s well-being), although I have to acknowledge that my theory might simply be my pie-in-the-sky idealism talking.

      I really do know that we can’t recreate for our kids the same type of childhood we had, and I think that taking a draconian approach (no tech period) is a bad idea. But I will say that tech, with its flashing lights and levels, has an unfair advantage over books and reading. (One could make the analogy that tech (mindless, what-exactly-is-the-purpose-of-this-anyway, kind of tech) = candy, and books = vegetables). And if technology is increasingly put into the hands of younger and younger kids (which certainly seems to be happening), this is concerning, especially if tech displaces reading and there’s also an eventual progression to violent video games (which have been linked to aggression and lack of empathy ( http://time.com/4000220/violent-video-games/ ), whereas reading books has been linked to an increase in empathy ( http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/date-reader-readers-best-people-fall-love-scientifically-proven/662017/ ). I completely agree that it’s a matter of balance, but I think far too many of us are having a difficult time finding that balance 😦 .

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  3. Oh my goodness, this post made me laugh out loud several times!

    One thing that amuses me is just how much all this depends on the temperament of our individual children. If I “lost” the iPad I can only imagine the histrionics that would ensue 24/7 until it was “found.”

    We have a similar addiction to Minecraft YouTubers here and I also find it frustrating and pointless. I mean, honestly, I find pretty much all video games pointless. (I am the video game version of Lady Mary: “I could not be less interested in video games if I took a pill to do so.”)

    But I do see the nuances. I think when my daughter actually plays Minecraft that can be a positive thing, and in fact as I’m typing this comment she’s sitting at her desk working on coding a “virtual horse” game in Scratch. So that’s kind of cool. She really enjoys talking about this stuff with my husband, too, so I can see how it builds their relationship. And involves some measure of creativity and hones her logic skills.

    All of that is great, but I can’t help being bothered by the idea of her only hobbies being virtual/digital ones. I have to check myself, because I don’t want to need her to be just like me and share my interests (craft, etc.). But I do think there’s value in having pursuits that are tactile/physical/”real” in some sense. She takes an art/craft class after school one day a week and really enjoys it…but she rarely if ever draws or tinkers with craft materials on her own. It just can’t compete with the screen.

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    1. Thank you, Sarah! I love knowing I’ve made someone laugh out loud 🙂 !

      My youngest is usually a pretty easy-going and unflappable kid, but it’s occurred to me that had I been an “adult” and told him right that morning what I had done, I would probably have been in for some histrionics too. The thing is, he completely believed he had misplaced it himself, and because I worked so hard at distracting him with other stuff — stuff he actually found interesting — by the time the truth came out he had already adjusted to the realization that the world wasn’t *actually* going to come to an end if he wasn’t allowed to go on it until Friday afternoon.

      I laughed at “the video game version of Lady Mary” — I am right there with you on that 🙂 . And I agree — it is really quite impossible to deny that there are many positive nuances as well, whether it’s the logic or the creativity or the one-on-one time with dads (or moms). My son is currently making a “map” (although I would call it a “world”) on a program which seems to be fairly similar to Minecraft. He’s shown me what he’s done/doing and despite myself, I am rather impressed that he just seems to *know* where and how to click, and what words to type, in order to make these things appear on the screen.

      I know we’ve discussed this before, but your daughter may yet come around to a “real” craft — it took until twelfth grade before my daughter showed interest in anything like that, and then did so not because of me, but because a friend had crocheted herself a scarf, inspiring my daughter to do the same. Who knows, perhaps the art that your daughter’s now experiencing/enjoying in her after school class will one day inspire her to make her own artwork for her first apartment. I sometimes feel that just a little exposure to some of these things can go a long way, even if it takes many years 🙂 .

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  4. Ohhh boy, we have this issue in spades! It’s interesting in that it seems to affect some children more than others, and I can’t tell what the variables are–but I would say that your youngest’s exposure to interactive computer stuff, compared to the older kids’ watching TV, is probably not the issue. (I recommend the book The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn, which is (at least the used edition I have) about TV only.) At Thanksgiving the past two years, we discussed screen-time addiction with my partner’s three cousins, who have had varied experiences: P’s kids, 5 and 6, each have their own iPad to use whenever they like; it’s been no problem, and they often put them aside for a day or more at a time. S’s kids, 7 and 9, are allowed no screen-time on school nights but watch videos on weekends and have unlimited iPad while their parents are sleeping late; they rarely ask for more. L’s son, 9, used to be allowed screen-time on a relaxed basis and would generally watch something every day, but they began to see that he was acting irritable and disrespectful as soon as he finished, that he would ignore agreed-upon responsibilities in favor of screen-time, and that he is never satisfied with the amount he gets but constantly nags for more and abuses all limits; they’ve tried cracking down in various ways, and it’s only when they take it away entirely for 48+ hours that his behavior really improves. Our 11-year-old is similar to L’s kid. It’s so irritating!!

    On the other hand, I’m often impressed with the things he can do. He got his own device (iPod Touch) for his birthday, and although we have to take it away at 6pm and not give it back until homework is done, he’s been making all kinds of neat “magic tricks” (for example, it displays what appears to be the intro screen, but when you swipe it, the image slides off and falls to the floor–he printed a photo of it and trimmed to exactly that size, and he slides it out from behind the device) and he and a friend have been making movies.

    I have really mixed feelings, but I’m appreciating the advice given by a book about how to raise teenagers: It is important to have rules and state them firmly, even if they are getting broken routinely, because this imprints the rules on the mind of the child–bringing him closer to compliance than he will be if you give up, and getting him accustomed to rules so that someday he can set his own.

    I sympathize with your hiding the iPad! Since my son was little, I’ve often taken away something that he was using in a problematic way and put it on top of the bookcase, saying he can try again with it tomorrow. Sometimes things are forgotten up there for months, and then he’s so pleased to have them again–or he’s forgotten all about the thing, so we can pass it on. That won’t happen with the iPad, but making it inaccessible for a while does help him think of other things to do.

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    1. It’s so helpful to talk to other parents and to hear how they’re handling technology with their kids, isn’t it? I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with your son in this department too; I do wish for your sake that your son was more like your first examples — more easy-going with respect to technology, I mean — than the latter example 😦 . Some kids ARE just more techie though, and it’s great to be able to find and encourage the positives (which is probably very affirming for them) while at the same time trying to keep it to a reasonable amount of time and trying to help them to cultivate other interests as well.

      On teenagers and rules … raising teenagers has been an “interesting” experience, that’s for sure! With regards to technology, I do feel we played catch-up with our older two (as in, my husband and I were not proactive enough in setting rules once they got their own devices in their early/mid-teens). We (luckily) don’t have huge issues with our older two and technology, although we do see that there’s probably too much time which is being spent on Netflix, as well as time not being utilized as efficiently as it could be, due to the phones being with them as they work and therefore the texting of friends. If I had to do it all over again, I would have had them keep their phones out of their bedrooms (at bedtime) and in another room while doing homework, but this is admittedly Luddite-me talking, possibly hankering for the “good old days”, because the fact is that my daughter did, and my son is, doing just fine (more than fine!) with school and keeping up marks, so clearly they are actually handling things ok, despite my hand-wringing!

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