Some moms serve breakfast at the kitchen table. I serve mine in front of the TV.
Or the iPad.
Or a Boxcar Children chapter book.
Why? Because I’m lazy and indulgent?
Because I want what’s best for my kids.
“Mom, can I play on your iPad?” My seven-year-old clamped her teeth and grinned, hands clasped beneath her chin in a pleading pose. I’d seen that look before. It means Daddy just installed a new LEGO app and we can’t get enough of it.
“Yes, but you need to eat your cereal, and when the clock says 7:20, it’s time to put down the iPad and get dressed.”
“Ok!” She grabbed my tablet off its docking station and settled on the sofa, where I placed a breakfast tray beside her.
“7:20.” I pointed to the clock. “Got it?”
I migrated to the kitchen to pack pear slices and pretzels into sandwich baggies. When the clock struck 7-2-0, I called out, “What time is it?”
“Awww, Mom! Just five more minutes, please?”
“Nope. We had a deal.”
A deep sigh blew from across the room. Then I heard the click of a cover flip, and my girl yanked off her pajama top in exchange for school clothes.
“Thank you, lovey.” I paused in the doorway to the living room. “You handled that well.”
Here’s the thing about technology and entertainment of all kinds. It can suck up every spare minute and still be hungry for more. More of our attention, more of our fascination, more of our daydreams and our should-be-sleeping hours. Our children are growing up in the pioneer era of social media, Kindle apps, QR codes and iTunes. With each passing year, shiny fun distractions are only going to further infiltrate their lives, demand their time, and risk their character. They need to know how to handle it.
They need to know how to control it.
Yes, yes, conventional parenting wisdom says don’t hand them the iPad in the first place.
But biblical wisdom says—teach them self-control.
And how will they do that if we don’t let them practice?
“In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I’m not just shadow-boxing or playing around. Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside, (1 Corinthians 9:24–27, TLB).
What’s our ultimate goal? To raise a child who obeys everything her mother says, or a child who understands the difference between right and wrong?
Do you even realize those are two different things?
As parents, it’s our job to teach our children discernment—good from bad, better from best. But then we must give them opportunities to exercise it. So I create parameters around fun and games rather than prohibitions. I allow my children to live inside the freedom of permission granted so they can learn—sometimes the hard way—how to regulate themselves.
Today it’s an innocent LEGO app. Tomorrow it will be Facebook, YouTube, text messaging, and Lord only knows what else. By the time my children are old enough to choose distraction vs. studying, electronic communication vs. personal human contact, and the things of this world vs. pursuits of eternal worth, I pray they’ll own a deep conviction toward the better call.
That is a gift I can give them.
“Mom, can I bring the iPad in the car on our drive to school?” My daughter emerged from the bathroom, hair combed and teeth brushed.
“No, sweetie, not in the car.”
“Can I play with it after school?”
“What do you think?”
She twisted her lips and considered for a moment.
“Mom, you know what? Too much screen time is not healthy. I should really practice my jump rope.”
Well, glory halleluiah. It’s working.