Yesterday I realized that I walk around on a daily basis carrying a giant Halloween Pumpkin full of delicious candy. I bring it into the bedroom with me when I sleep. It’s the first thing I check when I wake up and usually the last thing I see before I go to sleep. Sometimes I put it in my purse or pocket, but I reach in to check on it frequently. Luckily, it even makes a fun noise sometimes to remind me to check it or to tell me that something has happened to my candy. Sometimes when I’m in the car with kids, I let them reach into the pumpkin and get some candy. Sometimes before dinner we reach in together to get some candy. When I go somewhere pretty I pull the pumpkin from my purse and shake it around to capture the images that I see, waving it in front of the little kids faces, reminding them of all the candy and excitement that is inside. But sometimes when the kids ask to have some candy, I say “no, not now” and tears and screaming follows. Sorry guys, this is my pumpkin, I decide when you get to have candy but I get to snack all the time. It’s just the way it is.
It sounds like a crazy analogy, but in a lot of ways, carrying around a smartphone is like carrying around a pumpkin full of candy, to both the parent and the child. The pumpkin itself isn’t too exciting, it’s just the container although it is pretty and appealing (the smartphone) but whats inside, all of the delicious mini Snickers, M&M packages, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (Angry Birds, There’s a Monster at the End of This Book app, and DoodleBuddy) are exciting, fun, and addicting! The funny thing about the pumpkin/smartphone analogy is that it is incredibly accurate. There are times when kids (or adults) reach into the pumpkin excited to get piece of chocolate but sadly they pull out MilkDuds or black licorice, yuck. The same thing happens on a smartphone with the millions of apps that parents have for children to play. Sometimes you reach in and get something great like an app from Duck Duck Moose and other days you get a total dud (I won’t name names here).
What’s funny is that parents understand that it would be totally absurd and cruel to carry around a candy filled pumpkin which they are allowed to repeatedly reach into and get something good, but only occasionally allow their children to reach in and take candy. But parents don’t realize that they really are constantly pulling out a really fun and exciting toy in front of their kids throughout the day and frequently telling their kids they can’t play with it. It’s a little bit mean when you think about it.
So what is the solution? Throw out the pumpkin filled with candy? (There is no way any parent will toss their precious smartphone!) Hide it on the top shelf and allow the children to take one piece a day?… maybe that is the solution. Children do understand limits and they like the consistency of knowing that they will get their one piece of candy each day, maybe after dinner or after school, whenever you decide. Maybe that is a beginning solution to smartphones. Setting up routine times, like you do with reading before bed, where your children can play with the device for a certain period of time. This allows children to understand the limits of the device and also to understand that they will get a turn to use it too. But just like hiding the pumpkin away so the children aren’t constantly tempted to want to eat the candy, parents need to make more of an effort to take time away from their smartphones too and to recognize that it is a HUGE temptation to both the parents and children when it is constantly coming in and out of your pocket and sitting on the kitchen table during dinner.