Monday, October 7, 2013

My experiments of truth with iPad and my son


Late Steve Jobs in his wildest imagination would not have thought how his invention would spell trouble for upwardly mobile, well-to-do parents all over the world. Keeping kids away from iPad is as difficult as keeping magnet's north pole away from south pole.

We found this out hard way on my 3Xth birthday, when my wife got an iPad as a surprise gift. That was the first and last day I could hold it for five full minutes without my son snatching it from me. My access to iPad diminished by week and soon I had to ask my son about whereabouts of the iPad. We started off with child friendly applications and story books but soon car racing games, gun fights filled all iPad pages. He figured out how to get on youtube and find his favorite episodes of "Tom and Jerry" and preferred to watch them on iPad rather than on TV.

We tried to put a passcode to iPad. He would try to crack it. Once he found the iPad unlocked, he started playing with it without asking for any permission. We tried to limit his time to use iPad, that made the matters worse. We said finish your homework / dinner / any other work that he didn't want to do first, then we can give iPad. He would hurriedly finish it and get his prized iPad time. He would be cranky and irritable in all activities preceding and following iPad time.

In short, it was a mess. We had a great learning tool in our hand but it was not effective. Me and my wife sat down to think on how we can reverse the situation.

We realized that our enemy was not usage of iPad but our son's obsession with iPad. We found that even when he was playing at playground or we were in a mall he would be thinking about iPad. By saying "finish this and then take iPad" we were unknowingly telling him that the thing you finish first is not so important and the prize of doing that is iPad. Our first step was to kill his obsession with iPad. "If he is obsessed he would crack every code, bend every rule or find every loophole", we thought. To beginwith, we lifted all restrictions on iPad usage. He could use it whenever he wants and for how much-ever time he wants. No passcode, no screen time restrictions nothing. Our risky move paid off, soon the special status of iPad as a toy vanished. Ipad became as available as other toys, iPad time was not anything to look forward to. He would get bored with it after sometime and start playing with other toys. He would insist on going to friend's place or playground for physical play.

We figured out that he used to spend maximum time watching videos on iPad and not playing games. He used the iPad in the same way as we use TV. Switch off the brain, watch the screen and call it entertainment. We decided to de-bundle active and passive entertainment. We removed youtube or any other browser application from iPad and told him to watch his Tom and Jerry on TV. Now iPad ceased to be passive entertainment. He had to play some game or do something actively to stay entertained. That naturally reduced the time he spent on iPad.

We limited the number applications / games to one iPad screen. We told him that is all he could have. If he wanted another game he had to get rid of one of the games from the screen. This helped us to limit expectations on what iPad can offer him. Soon it became a limited entertainment rather than a toy with endless possibilities. He learnt the trade-off. He learnt to forgo familiar but boring games to unknown and exciting ones. He started choosing games more carefully.

Buoyed with initial success, we implemented another rule - if he wanted a new game he needed to abstain from iPad for one complete day. This was tough to implement but soon he got habituated to this. He would plan his new game purchase and keep iPad away for a day. He really started valuing the games he had. We also told him that keeping the iPad charged was his responsibility, which he gladly accepted.

Initially we had kept all educational, brain development applications and car racing type games in different folders. That was all lose proposition. My son was smart enough to realize that the folder with racing games was more entertaining than the other one. We corrected our stupid move by mixing games with quizzes, memory games, mathematics apps, brain development games. With no artificial classification he explored all applications with an open mind as if they were games. He started liking logo quiz, flag quiz. He would do some simple sums and spellings as a part of the game without realizing the distinction.

My son is just 6 and we have a long way to go in our parenting journey. We have a lot to learn, re-learn to manage iPad and kids. But with these initial simple steps we have attained equilibrium with iPad. Although, my son has iPad at his disposal he chucks it away when his friend comes over. Playground time slots are back. Whats more, he learnt elementary chess on iPad, he learnt solar system on iPad app, he knows flags of over 60-70 countries, he can do simple sums.... And still counting.

At least for now, we breathe easy as my son treats iPad as just another toy, albeit the most favorite one.