July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

For the past two years, I’ve had a rule. If my (bigger) kids get up for school and are down for breakfast by a specified time, they are allowed to bring an iPod to use on the bus. My toddler begs to go on a bus for free, and also begs to use an iPod, so my system is irrelevant for him. This arrangement violates all of my anti-screen policies; however, I felt that some of my children were in need of motivation to get moving in the morning, and also the culture of the bus was a bit beyond “educational” for their young ears. Although one of my complaints about putting my kids in front of a screen is that they zone out, I felt this to be a positive side effect on the bus. I didn’t want them to necessarily hear or notice what was going on around them.

The bus is like a giant, unsupervised birthday party, where kids who are typically well behaved let loose after a long day of being cooped up in school. The only eyes are those of the driver, fixated on the road, and perhaps giving an occasional shout out to “sit down” and keep quiet, but likely using other, more harsh terms. There are bullies, and there is physical aggression, and there are kids who seem to forget their boundaries. There are people who throw things out the window and those who wave deliriously at cars. And there also are kids who sit quietly and look outside, drawing shapes in the condensation that they breathe, and even some who talk with a neighbor or friend. But it is not the latter group whom I dread. The iPod helps to block out everyone else.

I suppose all policies need to be reviewed and revisited at some point, and although I knew the children would lash out at me if I rescinded this decision, it became wholly obvious that we were in need of a change. The child who needed the most morning motivation often preferred sleep over game time. Another child, if, God forbid, wasn’t ready in time, would then get extremely disgruntled and leave in a huff, if this privilege wasn’t granted for the day. A third child began nagging that she wanted an iPod for the bus too, even though she was young and seemed immune to the evil on the bus (or, more likely, she was unfazed because earlier exposure from her older siblings having taught her everything at home). Maybe, even the kids on the bus were better behaved this year. She seemed too young and happy to give up her bus fun and friendships in exchange for being zoned out by a game. I wasn’t ready to make that shift, even though by that age I had done it for the others.

“After winter vacation there are no more iPods on the bus…” I casually announced one afternoon, and prepared myself for the verbal attack. The kids were mad, but I reassured them that I’d find other appropriate times for them to play (which, I’d like to say, is never, but that would be unfair of me to just take everything away cold turkey).

“Now we have no reason to get ready for school every morning,” they tried to argue. Yes. Definitely no reason. I was doubly encouraged to take away this stimulus. They had also lost sight of doing things because it was simply “their responsibility” and it had become a prize-winning ordeal, with immediate gratification rewards built right in. I re-emphasized the consequences of missing the bus; something that relates to real-life experience more so than a reward for brushing their teeth by 7:25.

Our mornings are different now. In some ways better and less tense because of the absence of the reward; there is less urgency and whining in regards to obtaining the prize, less glazed-over eyes when they come home in the afternoon, and we still mostly manage to get to the bus before it pulls away. It helped me to shift away, to teach my kids a more powerful lesson—that not every little aspect of life needs a prize, or a reward, and sometimes we need to do things for a greater reason, or “just because.”

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

By Sarah  Abenaim

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