Almost Antisocial

We hadthe most amazing Thanksgiving break. You can see much of it on my Instagram feed, which has slowly morphed into a blog for me. It’s easy and forces me to be brief.Maybe too brief, because I’ve been away from the writing habit long enough that I’m having trouble formulating my thoughts.

What I lovedabout our Thanksgiving break: the birth of my new niece, Charlotte; sleeping in; the cool weather; family activities; playing outside; the Mister being home. Nothing extraordinary, but all of it wonderful. Our decision to make it a limited TV/video game/device break played a large part.

Screenshot 2015-11-30 17.49.12

Three cheers for a week with barely any screen time! There’s been reading, playing, hiking, visiting family, and homework. This picture of the boys playing football with a boy from the neighborhood reminds me of a picture book Nico had called “Fall Ball” by Peter McCarty. I read it to him and his classmates in the 1st grade. When the friends crashed into each other and the leaves went everywhere the whole class laughed and laughed. I just recently donated it to the library. 🍃🍁🍂

Twice in the last month we caught Nico in a lie. Both times hewas supposed to be in bed, but was really playing on my old iPhone. It’s important to note that we don’t allow video games or TV during the week, so what he did, while not capital murder,went beyond staying up past his bedtime without permission. The second time we found him playing on the phone was right before the break; we immediately took away the privilege of video games and devices for the entirety of his vacation. In essence, this put Mikey on restriction as well, but we didn’t lose sleep over itbecause he had homework in at least one subject, his science fair project to complete, and academic decathlon work (he’s on the current events team). We wanted him outside in the fresh air after all that book work.

With Nico unable to watch TV or play video games, the house was quiet. Mikey completed his projects peacefully and without distractions in record time, while Nico worked on puzzles, drew pictures, built Legos, and read Goosebumps. When Mikey finished all his work, he joined in on Nico’s fun.When they got bored, I told them to go outside and play.

Within a few minutes, all the neighborhood kids were over. Not long after that,they”invented” Land Boat Racing.


Land Boat Racing, according to the kids, is when you take skateboard or kiddy pedal car and attach to it acardboard seat you make out of boxes you find in your parents’ garage. Then, using large sticks you gather from the neighbors’ yards, you row yourself down the street. If you ask the Mister and his brother, the “true” inventors of Land Boat Racing in the 70s, you’re supposed to balance a lawn chair on a skateboard and then find a hill. Helmets?Not in the 70s!

The kids also played a ton of football and basketball. Nico got busted tryingto swing from our tree. They came inside when the street lights came on. It was the vacation our family needed, and it was wonderful.

What I noticed more than anything was the absence of petty fightsand drama. The boys aren’t allowed to play violent video games, but I swear even Minecraft winds them up and makes them short tempered. Theirpersonalities change. They fight over stupid, stupid stuff. They have trouble sleeping at night and get up early to get in more game time. They don’t eat well, either nibbling at their food so they can get back to playing faster or waiting until they’re starving to eat.

We went without cable for years until recentlybecause the Mister wanted to watch football with the boys. Reconnecting the cablewas a mistake. Now all the boys want to want to do is watch football and Cartoon Network. Then they imitate what they see, and what they see is rude and lame.

photo by John Blanding
photo by John Blanding

The thing is, I’ve been down on kids and devices even before our break. I was aware of the differences I see in the boysand haven’t know what to do about it. Then, I saw Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teensand dropped my head in my hands. If you haven’t watched this special yet, I highly recommend you make the time to do so.

I’ve talked to 3 or 4 moms of children older than mine since I watched that special, and they all saidthe same thing: if they could do it all again, they would delaygiving their kids devices of any kind. These are all mothers I respect, mothers who don’t know each other, and all these conversations (1 email, 3 in person) happened separately and without one knowing about the others. Theybelieveonce you start, it’s hard to pull back; monitoring use becomes difficult and time consuming; parental controls are a joke and can be circumvented easily.

How can we as parents do this, though, when all the schools are switching to iPads? Or how can I demand this of the boys if I do everything on my phone?Take today, for example, which was my birthday. My mother and two brothers called me. I also received 63messages on my Facebook wall, 12texts, and 4 emails.

The Mister and Irealized that if wewant to raise the boys differently, weneed to be thefirst ones to change. We’re not sure what that entails because not all technology is bad! I love writing here, love the internet, love the people I have met online, and love my corner of Instagram. To flounce fromthe internetis out of the question. Please, everyone comes back, if only for the cute animal videos.

As usual, I’ve been thinking, reading, plotting, and trying to come up withrealistic, long term plans. I’ll share them as they become more concrete. Selling everything and moving to a yurt in New Mexico is tempting, but not likely. Living a life without electronics sounds lovely; so does Utopia. Neither one is going to happen. (But wouldn’t it be something?)

In an effort tospeed up thenavel-gazing process, I’m hopingyou’ll share your thoughts on kids and electronics so that together we can come up with aworkable solution that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.




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  1. First, Happy Birthday! It’s my nephew’s birthday today too, the first child who made me an aunt, and it was a special one – he’s 13! Special day. 🙂

    So, is it a bad time to confess we bought two Amazon Fires for our kids for Christmas? For $50 a piece. Logic is this: I wanted to replace our 1st gen iPod, with a new one, but they are still $400. So for 1/4 the price we got TWO tablets. Technology is what scares me the most about parenting, but it’s not going away, our oldest will be taking her state third grade tests on a chrome book. We thought the best thing to do was to teach them how to handle it at a young age. We also have a general rule no screens M-F, but I broke that just today as I wanted the kids quiet for 15 minutes while I finished dinner. We are firm on the no games M-F, and Minecraft hasn’t been discovered by our four yet. I’ve been tempted to introduce it to our 5 year old because I’ve read several things that it’s supposed to be great for – creativity, problem solving, logic, etc., but now I think we’ll hold off. Thank you for addressing this because I think it’s vital that parents discuss technology. Even if they come to different conclusions or hold different opinions, having parents that I respect work through issues is very helpful. Now I’ve been rambling, it’s late, but I at least wanted to respond with appreciation for starting this conversation. Totally seen the personality change thing, and want to balance the avoidance of that with the simple desire to let our kids do what they enjoy. Our daughter is like me and uninterested, but our son is very, very good at games and loves them. Our other two follow his lead and it seems like a drug to them. Ugh. Great to hear from you again! 🙂

    • We let Mikey and Nico start playing Minecraft because we heard the same things And, to be fair, there has been some great creativity. Mikey did his mission project all in Minecraft. But over time they want to play with their friends on certain servers, but you have to get invited. Sometimes, not all the kids get invited. That’s life, definitely, but I think snubbing should be done face-to-face.

      It’s great to be back. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Happy birthday!

    I look forward to hearing how you decide to handle screen time (TV, phones, games, etc.). I am very leery of giving it to my kids (2 and 4 years old) because they instantly become terrors to deal with afterwards. But my husband thinks screen time isn’t a big deal and their whiny, poor behavior afterward is unrelated, and that they just need more discipline. We’re finding it difficult to find a compromise.

    I also wonder if it’s so obvious in our kids how too much screen time affects them, and how addicting it is for them… how much does it affect us, only we don’t realize it because we don’t have an authority figure restricting our access to 30 min to an hour on the weekends only? Am I as crabby as they are, only I don’t realize it because I’m still walking around with my phone stuck to my face or sitting with my laptop hot glued to my thighs?

    I love the benefits of the Internet (the inspiration, the convenience, the camaraderie, etc.), but it really, truly is addicting. Scary.

    • Oh, you bring up such a great point about our own personalities changing! I never thought of it that way, but there have been times I’m reading or watching something online and I either 1) ignore the person trying to talk to me or 2) don’t hear them or 3) get frustrated when I’m interrupted.

  3. I agree with your general view and don’t have an answer to the issue. In high school this year they are allowing the girls to carry their phones with them–safety in case of school shooting! The students can take screen shots of blackboards which is very useful for solving math, chem, etc. But my daughter hasn’t read a book since the twilight series–she was never a reader, but still. You wonder how this behavior will age…texting while driving, texting while changing your baby’s diaper, playing stupid games even as an adult when you could spend time better. I personally have become less productive since I started following people on Instagram. It’s an addiction I am trying to now control. My novel reading has suffered. You are smart to curtail it with your kids. I will be interested in your new ideas.

  4. Great post. I don’t envy you at all. My kids are adults now but they were the “first generation” of techy kids. As parents we also had to find our way. The kids were always a step ahead of us – able to “hide” things on the computer, find sites we would never, ever have allowed, do things we didn’t know existed. It was a constant battle. You are so, so smart to put limits on the kids. I wish I knew then what I know now – but of course, hindsight is 20/20. I wish I had not even EVER allowed phones in the bedrooms (charge them in the kitchen and leave them there), and no video games when they could have – should have – been doing anything else. I should have used every parental control available. There is good and bad technology – but I could have been a better parent by figuring it all out before the kids did.

    • And, there you go! Yet another mother of children older than mine who says the exact same thing! I’m taking what you say to heart as I figure out what to do with screen time in our home. Thank you.

  5. It’s so nice to have a blog post from you!! I wish I had some good ideas for you but I land firmly in the “More questions than answers” area of this debate. You have great readers though, so hopefully there will be some good answers because my kids received two mini iPads for Christmas two years ago and outside of our 12 hour road trip to Michigan most summers, I hate HATE H.A.T.E. them. They make my kids crabby, they make me crabby, and then there is the time spent arguing with them over content and screen time or worse – Jess and I having two very different opinions on what is appropriate content and use (I’m right, of course). On the bright side, I also have hope. My niece and nephews (high school ages) grew up with this technology and they seem to have a much easier time walking away from it than we adults do. A few weekends back a bunch, the whole family was at the cabin and I noticed that it was the adults all glued to their phones – the kids had found something else to do – theirs were all sitting untouched on the counter.

    As for me, I’ve started this year to really try to untether from my phone – leaving it at home when I go to the grocery store or for a walk, not charging it in my bedroom so it’s not the first thing I reach for in the morning. I’ve noticed that my friends and family get pretty annoyed when they can’t reach me right away, “But what if there was an EMERGENCY?!?” So far – it’s never been an emergency. I think we get so used to having our safety net with us that we forget how long people have been going to grocery stores and movies and walking around without one. And it’s actually really nice to be able to focus on the task at hand. Other things I do for me – I only have my one personal email account on it – the one only my family and friends and the kids’ school have for me, I don’t have the FB or twitter app, I have almost all my notifications turned off so I’m not distracted with beeps and chirps. I try and leave my computer alone until after noon because I’m more productive in the morning and I have things I need to get done.

    All that said, I read your blog at 4 this morning because I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep and I’m typing this response to you at 8:30 because I want to get it written out before I forget about it.

    I think there are a lot of different “right” answers to this question and sometimes New Mexico and a yurt sound pretty enjoyable. Looking forward to hearing more about what you decide to do!

    • I had to come back to point out that I went online to post that comment this morning and got sucked down the rabbit hole and have accomplished nothing. NOTHING. All day. (Okay, I ordered a couple of Christmas presents.)

      THIS is why I stay off the computer until noon. I’m weak and useless otherwise.

      • I’m the same way! My danger zone time is late morning/early afternoon. I think what you’re doing with your phone is great. I’ve tried to take steps lately to untether as well, though mine is still in the easy “planning” stages. Actually doing it is the hard part!

  6. Oh please figure out all the answers and let us know or write a book or something. I wish there were easy answers, but I have a feeling the solution will have something to do with being an example as a parent and limiting my own screen time and I want that as much as I want to limit sugar and cheese. I love my smartphone and the world it opened up for me but feel addicted to it. My baby is only one, but this issue looms big on my horizon. It is nice now to have the AAP recommendations for no screen time till two. Nice and easy rule and then after two it seems all a big clusterf%*k on the best way to handle tech. Who knows, maybe by the time he is 13 we will have evolved into a kind and gentle society and use our technology to sprinkle magic fairy dust of happiness on people. And chocolate and cheese will be deemed to be the new health food.

    Happy birthday 🙂

    • Your comment made me laugh out loud!! You may not have the answers, but we’ve got chocolate and cheese. That’s all that really matters anyway. 😉

  7. This is a tough one – we’ve never allowed video games and TV during the week, but are softening on TV now that the boys are in high school (twins, 14). I’ve had trouble with both, and wish there was a way to cut them off entirely. On the other hand, I love that one of them can google things at his leisure and read about science. I hate, of course, that his brother has no filter and that we’ve had to pull him back to no privileges at all but texting. It’s a fine, fine line, and one that my oldest daughter didn’t prepare us for, as she had no interest in anything but texting and twitter. We’ve struck a balance of sorts – no multiplayer internet games, text with your friends, small freedoms that occasionally get pulled back when stupid teenage boy mistakes are made. No video games until Friday afternoon when we all need a break.

    Happy birthday – glad to “see” you back in long form.

    • Boys seem to be at a greater risk for doing really stupid stuff online. And, worse, finding really bad stuff online. I think we’ve done some things right, but we get lax during summer breaks, and that has to stop. I swear it carries over.

  8. Happy Birthday (belated)! Sounds like Thanksgiving break was amazing for your family- YAY!

    I know for a fact that my kid is just better all the way around if she’s been outside playing in the fresh air each day. It doesn’t have to be all day, but at least a few minutes. It isn’t the same as just being active indoors- it’s something about being OUTSIDE in fresh air (and we live in the NW, so that does mean weather happens. I still send her out unless it’s extreme).

    We fight the battle between our tech world and the expectations of schools, friends & family that we will be using the array of devices regularly and my personal feelings that there are wonderful things to be found online/social media, but they are also time stealers. Time away from being creative, from just being, from really looking someone in the eye- in person.

    Luckily my daughter (age 10) isn’t all that interested in being connected all the time. I think some of it’s just her personality and some of it is that I’ve kept gaming/devices/phones to a minimum in our household her whole life. We are the ‘weird’ family that doesn’t have a full variety of electronics at our fingertips. I’m holding out as best I can while still trying to use technology in the best ways.

    When you find the answers to this, please tell me. I see middle school screaming down the tracks full speed at me and the expectation that she will have her phone handy and be doing even more schoolwork online. Social interactions on whatever app is the new thing (snap chat now… what next?! EEK!) and I am afraid for all of the implications that comes with teens and social media. The amount of time spent on it, plus all the things that will be out of my control. But we can’t live in a cave….

    Love to see you back!

    • Middle school is…just wow. The difference just one summer vacation made! It’s like Mikey’s class walked through the school gates in August and tripped some sort of hormonal switch. I never could imagine Mikey or any of his classmates going through personality/friend/attitude changes, but they did!

  9. Dear Jules, I’ve missed you!
    Can’t add much to the discussion, most of the time I feel like a dinosaur struggling to cope with the crazyness that is surrounding me. John Blanding’s photo is so very poignant. That lovely lady and her relaxed body language taking it all in and those fools around her.
    To be honest I’m fed up with the insanity. That yurt in New Mexico seems like the only sound plan.
    Sorry for rambling…

  10. I am dealing with this right now. My 6-year old and 8-year old now have just earned enough money to buy their own tablets, especially since they came down to $35 – $50. My husband and I are both Software Engineers so we are techy but yet different. My husband has installed restrictions for sites/content and installed a time limit on the devices. They are not allowed in the bedrooms during night time. My issue is being a role model…I get on my device from time to time but since I’m on the computer all day and therefore can get my “fix” at work. But my husband is a whole different case, he’s content to be on his device as soon as he gets any free time or sit and watch many YouTube videos with my daughters. I really don’t want my kids to have that same preference. I have had discussions with my husband regarding that but he doesn’t seem to see it as a concern…that is my stumbling block.

    • I have the same problem with my brother, who loves playing video games with the boys. He thinks I overreact. Guess which uncle to boys love to spend time with?

  11. I have a six month old baby boy and I am already thinking about this.

    My cousin, now 25 and managing a Party City, was obsessed with video games all his life. His parents gave in and he always had the newest games. He was doing very well in school and always had a quiet, respectful personality. He went to college to become a software engineer and during his last year of college, he became fairly addicted to video/computer games. He dropped out of school and as I said, is now working as a store manager. Three of my other [male] cousins are in similar boats- cannot get them to step away from the video games to live life. It’s a sad reality for all of us around them.

    I think you are right to limit screen time. Harvard (I think) did a study that showed that parents are more snappy with their children when they themselves are on their devices. I haven’t noticed this with me and my son, but I have noticed it between my husband and I- it creeps in when I am in a perfectly good mood.

    I don’t have a good solution. Unfortunately, I think this is an issue that we’re still only beginning to understand. Best of luck to you and your family with this!

    • Brilliant comment, though the stories of your cousins shook me up a bit. But, that’s what it’s supposed to do, right? I’m so glad to hear your perspective. It motivates me even more to find a solution because, on the outside, video games didn’t show any deleterious effects on your cousins until it was too late. It shows that you can fool yourself into thinking that it isn’t a problem.

  12. Happy Birthday! I have no kids (so feel free to ignore me) but if you are tying to lead by example, I think it is entirely possible. As you said, avoiding the internet is not possible.

    I think setting limits for yourself & making it known (as in no phone during dinner, or an hour before bed, etc.) can be helpful. Also, showing that prioritizing technology for use as a tool & not a toy is a good example to set.
    (look up information, facetime OOS family, etc) not spend hours playing games with strangers.

  13. It’s good to have you back!

    Re: change of personality after screen time. I think I read it in a Steve Biddulph book, but there was a study some years ago where they interviewed children after half of them had played computer/video games. There was some pretext to the questioning, but during each interview the adult ‘accidentally’ dropped their pen on the floor. The children who had been playing on the computer ignored it; the other children bent down to pick it up. It didn’t matter what game the children had been playing.

    We find this especially with my son.

  14. Oh yes. So trying to figure this out. My eldest is six and occsionally watches pBS on an old phone, and play games on long car trips. So the gaming thing we’re good on because honestly 12 hours in a car with my six year old that can talk about anything under the sun non stop? Please let her play something for a little while so Mama dosent go insane. TV time (which is actually Netflix and movies) is okay. We don’t watch any during the week (except for December… We watch Christmas cartoons occasionally but sometimes we go a little too far on weekends. And that’s my fault. That’s Mom’s tired and Dad is working overseas so please watch something so I can breathe. And as for the whole being a good role model thing. Um ouch. Though I have purposely left my Phone and IPad at home until my sins nap time and that’s working well. Nap time kinda creates instant boundaries and its my time to sit and actually eat and do nothing if I want so yeah. Somethings wrong somethings are all right but middle and the terrors that are looming need to be decided on sooner rather than later.

  15. So glad to have you back, Miss Julie. Missed ya.

    This year has been the hardest regarding electronics with my kiddos. My oldest is a freshman at a science and technology school and EVERYTHING is online- his books, homework, assignments. He has a legitimate reason to be on a screen a lot, but I worry what this is doing to his developing brain which already has adhd tendencies.

    And my middle 12 year old wants to constantly communicate with friends. Her ipod/ipad is dinging with messaging many times a minute. Way past bedtime, at all hours of the day. I remember being on the phone as soon as I got home from school, hiding it under the covers at night, and this irritating my parents to no end, so is this normal?!? And we haven’t even caved to the cell phone thing yet. Despite the relentless begging. Internet, do you know she is the only 12 year old in the school without one and that we clearly don’t care that we are the strictest, most irrational parents in the state?

    As far as moms setting the tone and example, la la la, I can’t hear you (even though I know you are right and I am a giant hypocrite.)

  16. First things first, happy birthday!

    On kids and tech, I count myself extremely lucky to have grown up straddling the analogue and digital generations. I’m 28, so the internet, whilst it existed, wasn’t really a ‘thing’ until I was 12 or 13. The younger years of my childhood were spent playing outdoors, using my imagination, drawing, building sandcastles in the sandpit, riding my bike, etc. And in the latter years of my childhood I was able to get acquainted with all things digital, and grow with them as technology developed. I do consider myself a digital native. I think learning to code or to gain an understanding of how technology works now is much harder because it has become so much more complex, but when I started out things were simpler and once you had some base knowledge you could build on it when new things were created.

    I remember feeling very deprived at 9/10/11 years old because most of my friends had computers, Gameboys, Nintendo 64/PlayStations, cable/satellite TV. We had 5 TV channels and no computers or games consoles. In hindsight I think this did me the world of good even if I didn’t believe it at the time.

    • I’m a little older than you, but similar thoughts regarding growing up with technology.

      I think because my parents modeled a healthy relationship with TV/phone it transferred over to internet as well. We had one tv in the house and we watched it together; we shared one family computer; we had one phone line (which I would spend hours on talking to my BFF after my parents had gone to sleep and after I had finished my homework).

      I remember getting up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons and peeling potatoes so that my mom would make me hash browns. I now watch netflix while I cook in the kitchen. No idea if watching cartoons affected my behavior in any way, but I do know that I may just be different. My job involves dealing with email ALL DAY EVERY DAY, and I HATE it. I avoid personal emails as much as possible. But perhaps Steph P and I are lucky that we recognize the technology for its use as a tool but our world paradigm wasn’t dominated by it.

      I am concerned though, about that new study finding that bingewatching shows kills brain cells 🙂

  17. Hello, Julie!

    This is my first comment, but I’ve been enjoying your blog for… oof, I don’t even know…maybe even a couple of years now? I just wanted to say I’m so glad you’re back! I’ve missed your sweet and tart takes on parenting and Catholicism and William Morris. Don’t ever leave again 🙂 (It’s strange to get so attached to strangers, isn’t it? Oh, the Interwebs!).

    Thanks again for your writing!


  18. I am so happy you are addressing this issue, and I hope more parents reflect on why they are choosing to give their children such free access to the internet, television, etc. Is it really to benefit the child, or more to act as a ‘babysitter’ or to avoid having to ‘deal’ with the child or his/her behaviors? I know everyone’s situation is different, and I don’t presume to know what is best for everyone, but in my experience, the lack of devices in our family has lead to some really happy and creative children who can effectively manage themselves in a variety of situations without bribes or distractions from a device. I have two children who are 5 (not twins) and they do not use any sort of devices. To be honest, they only watch about 30 minutes to an hour of television a week (PBS), and, this only began when they were about 3.5 years old. During times they have been permitted to watch more television, ie. when we are at a relative’s home, invariably this leads to whining, arguing, and other undesirable behavior, which largely does not exist when the television or internet are not utilized. I think that the use of phones, ipads and the like have created a society, to include children, who cannot deal with being ‘bored’. People need to be constantly distracted from their lives, whether that is sitting in a waiting room, at the park with their children, driving home from work, waiting in line, etc. This ‘boredom’ leads to creativity and brainstorming and other inspirational endeavors. Nothing could be better for our children then to avoid the constant intrusion of devices, and, instead, use their inherently inquisitive nature to explore and invent and play.

    I am sure as my children grow older the pressure to allow more access to devices will also increase. I hope I will be able to effectively find a solution that will allow for an expansion of access to these devices while still preserving the calm and peace that come with largely avoiding a regular attachment to the internet.

    I hope you and your family are able to come up with a plan that will work for all of you, and provide you with much happiness.

    Thanks for all of your inspirational and helpful posts! I really enjoy checking in with you from time to time.

    Have a great holiday season, and happy belated birthday!

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