Posted: Aug 14, 2013 6:00 AM
 
Early this summer, we finally cracked and bought an iPad and were instantly charmed by its benefits for our kids — educational apps and endless quiet entertainment. It wasn't long though before we found ourselves caught up in some bad habits — relying on a screen to babysit our kids and failing to set limits.

For three generations of iPads now, I've protested the purchase of one for our family, despite my technology-loving husband's interest. He had one for his job for a little while, and while we dabbled briefly in the world of child apps and games, I still came to the conclusion that we didn't need one. That if we had one, it would woo the kids away from things I'd rather they be entertained by, and that its perks weren't worth the expense.

I subconsciously brainwashed my response to any doubts I had about our family's growing time on the device with 'but they're learning so much!'

Well the expense dropped, and the perks grew a little more enticing. Early this summer, when my husband was in the hospital for two weeks, a friend came in from out of town and brought her iPad, loaded with the greatest apps for kids. While my kids weren't complete strangers to some of these games — we had a few on our phones — the iPad's screen size and ease of use hypnotized them into a world of peace and quiet. Not only that, they were learning. So much that I subconsciously brainwashed my response to any doubts I had about our family's growing time on the device with "but they're learning so much!" I mean, have you seen the Endless Alphabet app? Ten minutes into the game, my 3-year-old could not only quickly spot a "j," but could "ja-ja-ja" right along with it while she dragged the letter to its place in a word. How could I not encourage such learning milestones?

So I bought an iPad. It was a first generation used version I found on eBay, and as soon as it came, I loaded it up with learning games, including Endless Alphabet. Thrilled with the novelty of the new toy, I not only let the kids play with it, but I joined them. In fact, one night I found myself swapping out dresses, shoes and hairstyles on a virtual person in a dress-up app for — wait for it — an hour. While my kids were sleeping. If that wasn't thrilling enough, the iPad's arrival was timed perfectly — I was taking three kids on a plane to spend two weeks in Michigan without my husband. And honestly? The trip wouldn't have been the same without our iPad. Any frustration and boredom from my 3-year-old was so instantly appeased with a screen and a game, it was humorous. For the most part, car rides were quiet, restaurant fits were calmed. And the best part? She was learning! She was learning so much! The recognition of "j" had been joined by "b" and "c" and "o" and "s." We practically owed the iPad a preschool teacher's salary.

Fast forward to the end of summer. The honeymoon stage is over and our relationship with the iPad just got real — toothpaste left out, toilet seat left up. Relationships need boundaries, and I failed to set good ones from the start. Because of that, we got sucked up into some bad habits — relying on the iPad too much. We've taken it to restaurants, used it for short car rides and let our kids sit on the couch, eyes glued to a screen, in the middle of a beautiful day because it was easy. Because everyone was quiet and happy, and you learn quickly as a mom not to do anything to disrupt that. Sure, we still read books and play with puzzles and know better than to completely sell our souls to a screen, but it's obvious that we've gotten lazy with our standards because of how convenient the iPad makes life with kids. And how they're learning! Of course, you can't forget the learning.

My husband and I have both noticed a remarkable difference in the kids' behavior after they've spent a little too long on the screen.

Not only that, my husband and I have both noticed a remarkable difference in the kids' behavior after they've spent a little too long on the screen. They're slower to respond to us, quicker to become frustrated and clearly overstimulated. There were two last straws — one, a meltdown from my daughter when the iPad screen froze up and didn't respond to her finger swipes, and two, a moment last week when my father-in-law tried to engage my daughter in conversation and she was oblivious to his questions, instead transfixed by her game.

Time to shape up. We've pulled back on the iPad use, with kindness to ourselves because, let's face it, it happens. We gradually got lazy, and we're straightening things back out. I may not go as far as Taylor Swift with the whole "never ever ever getting back together" thing because I'll be the first to vouch for the great benefits today's technology offers our youth. But, we're definitely setting time limits for the screen and making new rules — the first being that an iPad is never chosen as a substitute for people who sit in front of you, wanting to engage.

And like 100 other parenting lessons, I'm reminded to apply these same truths to myself. While today's technology opens a world of opportunities for us, it should never be at the cost of closing face-to-face, heart-to-heart interaction with our families.

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