Wednesday, March 29, 2023

I am not a fan of television, iPads, computers, or any other screen-device. I hate all electronics, which directly translates into how much my kids hate me, because I forbid them to use all of these things. We are not Amish in our home; we do own technology, but we severely try to limit its use as it seems to suck the life out of our children and turn them into zombies. Turning on a screen actually turns them off to the world. There was even once a time that whenever my son would finish watching television, he would have a fever (or, he just had undiagnosed strep, but it fits with my case, here). That’s how profoundly it effects my kids’ brains.

There are some exceptions to these rules. They can use i-Pads on the bus ride to and from school, because I WANT them to not pay attention to the “life lessons” learned on the school bus, which should be a reality show called, “Kids Gone Wild.” Sometimes on long car trips, they can watch a DVD or play on an iPad, because it’s just so freakin’ boring. Every now and then at home, we will make an allowance and put on a movie or a show. (And then I am called the “Best Mother Ever.” I must brag for a moment here… Maybe I’ll even give out autographs.) And when the kids are too sick to move, a little dumbing of the brain with an infusion of technology works almost as well as Tylenol.

This past week, I had a sick child and she was doubled over in pain. I ushered her upstairs to bed, where she could rest quietly, and keep her germs quarantined. Every complaint out of her mouth caused my anxiety to mount exponentially, so I put my laptop on her nightstand and found some episodes of Disney Jr. shows she enjoyed, while I attempted to get the other kids ready to go to sleep. Within minutes, the other children had congregated around her bed. My toddler was standing in front of the screen, eating the plate of crackers I had brought for her in case she developed an appetite, and the others stared at the computer, practically curled up in the bed with her, oblivious to the germs that were fluttering around them.

“Why does she get to watch TV?” they cried, when I ordered them to exit the premises. I told them because she was in so much pain and needed something to distract her and reminded them that being sick isn’t just fun (TV and Gatorade!), but that she would also be missing out on exciting things coming up, while they all had plans to attend. One child cried himself to sleep, muttering how unfair it was. Another actually made a get-well card, a huge improvement from previous jealous episodes. But the real problem was that the sick child knew that all she had to do was complain that her stomach was still hurting, and I’d put on another show. The ON button turned off her complaints, and I bought into it.

It’s always hard to wean a child off the perks of being sick. The eating meals on the couch, the unlimited television time, the vacation from school/work/chores. My kids are always tempted to feign illness for a few extra hours or days, especially those who really love chewable Motrin tablets, and eat them like candy. But in the end, as we phase out the special sick activities, we can phase in their normal ones, and at some point, the previous balance will be restored.

I eliminated TV as rapidly as it had been introduced. I tuned out when the kids would bemoan how they weren’t sick, and it wasn’t fair because they never get to watch television. But the thing is, they become conditioned. “My neck is hurting,” my child complains, looking at me beseechingly. And I know what she means to say is, “Can I watch TV?” It’s just another weapon in their artillery, just another way to battle me on my positions, to tackle me in my sympathetic weak spots. They get me to say “no” and put me back in my place of “Worst Mom Ever,” right where I belong.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected]

By Sarah Abenaim

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