It was a rough week at our home. The term “personal crisis” comes to mind, but, truly, “crisis” is too strong of a word. Our family’s overall health and wellness are intact, and we know that God has a plan and it’s all under His control. That said, I won’t deny that I’ve had several sleepless nights and have been sick to my stomach for much of the week. Worst of all, the day everything exploded, Dan was away on a golf outing for work, so I was on my own with the boys all. day. long. (Except for a life-saving dinner with my parents at IHOP, bless them!!!)
My mind was a wreck, and I was highly distracted–trying to figure out how to remedy the situation and composing e-mails in my head. I was especially thankful for our daily “quiet time,” when my two youngest children nap, my oldest child reads, and my six-year-old, well… [hides face in shame] …plays on the iPad. Here’s the thing. This child is at a tricky age; he’s too old for naps, but he’s not a strong enough reader to entertain himself with books for an hour at a time. My solution for this stage was to let him watch the iPad, which he loves and guarantees me a nice chunk of peaceful, blissful, sanity-saving alone time in the afternoon.
The only video-viewing app I allow on the iPad is Netflix, which I thought I had under control by way of the “Parental Settings.” I had created a profile for each of my children, except for the baby of course. My oldest son’s programming was set to “Big Kids,” my middle two sons’ programming was set to “Little Kids.” Everyone–including Dan and I–had to enter a password to watch a show rated higher than PG. I thought that these settings were sufficient, but, goodness, was I wrong.
On this particular day, my child was sitting near me as he stared at the tablet. The first thing that caught my attention was the audio of whatever he was watching: the language was definitely not English.
“What are you watching?”
“I don’t know,” my son replied, his eyes still glued to the iPad.
I got up from my chair and peered over his shoulder. Whatever he was watching was live action, and it looked like a show or movie for adults. An actor, costumed in one of those bright orange prison uniforms, was sitting at a table conversing through a pane of glass. He was speaking German (I think), and captions that were above my son’s reading level scrolled across the bottom of the screen.
“How did you even get access to his show?!” I asked, my voice wavering slightly with panic.
“I logged into Shane’s account,” he said matter-of-factly. “All the shows on my profile are boring.”
I seized the iPad and, sure enough, he had simply clicked on his big brother’s profile (there is no way to add a password or prevent him from doing so) and gotten access to shows that I would never have approved of for him. (In case you’re wondering, the show he was watching was Ant Boy.) My son’s ability to do this also explains why, when I log into my own Netflix account, the app suggests every version of Power Rangers under the sun, and a myriad of other cartoons in which I have zero interest.
With absolute horror, I realized that my son has no filter when it comes to what he is viewing. He had been watching this show in a language he didn’t understand for at least 10 minutes, and he would have happily continued watching! #MomFail
Stomach still churning from my “personal crisis,” I told my son that he was done with the tablet for the day and sent him outside to play. I logged onto Netflix and immediately deleted my oldest son’s profile. (He doesn’t ever watch television anyway.) I also changed the settings, so my children would have to enter a password (which we will not be giving to them) to watch any show rated more mature than “G.”
I knew that my six-year-old was going to be furious when he discovered what I did, but sometimes good parents need to be the objects of their children’s fury. Sure enough, the next day, when my son logged onto the iPad during quiet time, he was devastated to find that Shane’s profile was gone, and he couldn’t access his favorite shows through my account either. There were a lot of tears. Screaming into a pillow. I rubbed his back and hugged him, but stayed firm in my resolve.
Parents, this is just a reminder to stay vigilant. I’m sure Netflix could make it easier for parents to control what their children watch (for example, to allow for the blocking of individual shows), but they aren’t doing it. We can’t set the “Parental Settings” and simply coast, trusting that the settings will do our jobs.
My six-year-old’s reading skills are getting stronger, so I’m planning on making a weekly trip to the library to get a big stack of books at his reading level. When the littles are napping, I’m going to have Shane, and Conner join me in the living room to read independently together. (That s kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it?) I usually read at night after the boys have gone to bed, so this will also accomplish my goal of modeling independent reading in front of them. We’ll start with 5 minutes and work our way up to 30 minutes per day. I won’t have as much peaceful time to myself as I did when I allowed my son to watch the iPad in the afternoon, but I think, no, I know that it will be worth it in the end.
Honestly, if I could have a complete do-over in parenting, I don’t think we would allow any screens at all. I’ve found that it’s infinitely easier to disallow something in the first place than it is to monitor it.
What kind of boundaries do you set for your children when it comes to screens? I’d love to hear your household guidelines, tips, or tricks in the comments.