Goodnight, iPad: How Taking an iPad Break Made My Family Happier

Getty / Thanasis Zovoilis

The writing was on the wall, or should I say the home screen. Last week, I realized my kids had entered the danger zone of iPad obsession, and I was culpable. I was alarmingly proud of my almost-2-year-old son’s skills at playing fairly complex games and switching between them and his favorite videos, but I was becoming concerned that he was saying “iPad” more times a day than “Mommy.”

“Want iPad, iPad, iPad, pwease. Want iPad, iPad, iPad [prolonged screams]” had become his morning mantra. His devotion was matched (or should I say inspired) by his older sister, my 4.5-year-old daughter, who had started referencing the HobbyKidsTV family, a YouTube channel with almost 1.3 million subscribers, more than our own. Action needed to be taken.

While I knew taking a little tech break was the best thing for my kids, I have to admit I was more than a little apprehensive about it. The iPads are as much a parenting crutch for me as they are a fun toy for my kids, guaranteeing as much uninterrupted work, cleaning, and generally quiet time in my household as I’ll allow, at least for my daughter. My little guy recently decided the only acceptable volume for his iPad endeavors was full blast, making it hard to concentrate on anything else beyond whatever scene of Shrek he’s watching on repeat.

My ears needed a break, but the timing for an iPad hiatus also seemed serendipitous because of my family’s upcoming trip to Florida for Christmas. I figured a week without iPads, which would magically reappear upon takeoff, would exponentially increase my husband’s and my chances of a serene flight. So I made the leap, and I hid both iPads while my kids were sleeping.

The next morning, they noticed almost immediately they weren’t in their normal charging spots. “Where are the iPads?” my daughter whined over her Cheerios. I told her they had both broken down the night before, that their dad took them to the Apple store to be repaired, and they’d probably be gone for about a week, a white lie that I figured would eliminate the inevitable “can we have the iPads back now?” question I’d otherwise hear every 10 minutes or so. Amazingly, they accepted the departure of their precious tech without too much complaint, and things got even more surprising from there.

In the last six days, my daughter’s only mentioned her iPad once, telling me she was excited to get it back in a few days, and I haven’t heard a single “iPad” from my newly verbal toddler. They started using their imaginations more, playing new, inventive games together every day. Hide-and-seek, dance parties, and pretend play have seamlessly filled up those iPad-less hours. My daughter turned from a big talker into a certified chatterbox, constantly jabbering about school, friends, Christmas, and movies, without a single HobbyKidsTV reference. Both of my kids seemed a little happier and lighter, freed from their obsession with getting their next iPad fix. Listen, I’m not saying a week without an iPad is a revolutionary act, but did I witness a noticeable difference in their behavior? Absolutely, and I liked what I saw.

Watching them inspired me to make an effort to cut down my own screen time, stashing my phone away before I sat down to color or read or watch a Christmas movie with them, instead of bringing it along and inevitably spending half our time together staring at it, more engaged in my Instagram account than them. I realized my obsession was just as bad as theirs.

Six days into our iPad hiatus, things around my house are louder and more chaotic than ever. Pillow forts are being made, toys are being thrown around, puzzle pieces are scattering around the floor, and my daughter never. stops. talking. But it feels good, much better than watching my kids veg out with a screen.

The iPads will come back; I’ll never ban them for good. But, as my own mother has told me so often throughout my life, moderation is key. And a break can be a very good thing.

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