Chart Number 211

March 25, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

My husband and I made a decision a long time ago to limit the number of electronic items the kids could use. This was easy when they were babies and then toddlers. We simply told friends and family we wanted to stay away from toys with batteries. Most toys for babies and toddlers end up making a lot of noise and blinking a lot, and when said friends and family realized those items could just as easily end up in their houses it was easy to convince them of our request.

As the girls have gotten older, though, the challenge of allowing technology has grown. Technology itself has transformed in dramatic fashion. After all, when we had our older child the Kindle hadn’t even come out yet. The world has changed, truly, in leaps and bounds since then.

The kids’ paternal aunt begged me a few years ago to give her permission to buy them a Wii, and we declined. She’s tested the Kindle question and found the same answer. The girls get a great deal of exposure to technology in school. When they come home, they need to shut off that part of their brains and boot up the other portions.

We don’t own any kind of video game system—no PlayStation, no XBox, and, of course, that Wii—but even we couldn’t completely put our foot down when the kids begged to play computer games. Especially when those games are sponsored by well-meaning organizations. I mean, even a somber establishment like National Geographic makes online games with lots of cutesy music and funny animal characters for elementary-aged children.

The charm of computer games continues to persist. It’s still treated, by the kids and the adults alike, as a privilege in our home. The girls ask for permission every time they want to go on the computer, and we regiment their time online as best we can. Fifteen minutes per child, tops. Of course, with the loophole that one sister is watching while the other is playing, that 15 minutes easily turns in 30. If I get distracted by a phone call or text about the house or something else, 30 minutes creep into the 40-minute territory.

This leads into debates about the length of time each daughter gets, and Seven in particular gets into hot contests with us about how long her big sister gets versus her amount of time. We do everything we can to be fair, so it’s really not accurate to say Nine spends more minutes on the computer. It is completely fair to say, however, that Nine does a better job of checking the computer’s clock and tracking her time herself. She may not get off when 15 minutes come to an end, but she knows the end is coming.

Seven becomes so involved in her games that 15 minutes compress into about three in her tunnel vision.

A week ago Tuesday Seven’s allotted computer time ended, and I called to her to get off the PC. She wasn’t thrilled, and while she didn’t say it with her words her body language screamed her displeasure. Clearly she could have spent another 30 or 40 minutes there by herself.

A little while later my husband stood in the kitchen and called to Seven as she crossed the same space. She totally blew him off—didn’t turn around, didn’t mutter a reply, just marched right past, her little stomps jamming her consternation into the tile floor. My younger child is many good things. She also tends to be a little hotheaded.

We’re definitely working on that part.

Of course, my husband called her on her poor choice of behavior right away and issued an edict with as much force as she’d stomped through the kitchen: no computer for a week.

I’m nothing if not completely honest here on Growth Chart. For a moment my own heart folded in anxiety.

Oh, crap, I thought. Now I’m going to have to hear her complain about it for the week.

I kept my words and my thoughts to myself. In the next minute, as I listened to my husband lecture, I stayed neutral. In truth I thought a week was a touch excessive, but when I pondered it some more I realized that maybe it was also long enough to drive the point home.

We’ve told the kids time and again that it’s okay to get mad at situations. The trick, we’ve explained, is learning to control one’s impulses when that anger comes through. So no hitting or kicking or biting (for when they were younger,) and no screaming in people’s faces or saying hurtful things just to work anger out of the system.

Those actions are counterproductive, and in our house smart girls find a way to fix the problem. They don’t become a part of the problem themselves.

After the initial bout of crying and sad, droopy eyes after dinner, Seven accepted her punishment and went to bed. I really thought she’d continue to complain and whine throughout the week, but my younger child surprised me. Yet again.

The next day and in the days after, Seven approached her punishment in a philosophical way.

“I think this is the first time I’ve been grounded from anything,” she said, frowning in concentration one day as she stood with me in the kitchen. She’d tilted her head in consideration of this, her first grounding, and I tilted my head back and suppressed a smile.

On another day during her grounding, Seven came bounding to me as I sat with a cup of tea in the family room.

“I’m kind of glad I can’t play on the computer,” she said. “It gives me more time to work on my art and spend time with you.”

Nine, to her credit, acted with the utmost of diplomacy during her sister’s grounding. She would ask in a quiet voice whether she could play on the computer, and she never mentioned to Seven what she played or what she won on the games. Interestingly enough at one point Nine came to me and said, on her own, that she’d like to limit her computer time.

I’m not sure what prompted that, but I told her it was totally fine to spend less time on the PC.

We made it through the week of no computer for Seven, and we even had a good conversation before the end of the week about the choice she’d made in her behavior and how to modify her choices in the future. She got really excited about getting back to the computer for the first day or two after the embargo was lifted, but she hasn’t clambered back to the screen.

I was really encouraged to see that, and I hope the lesson she learned sticks. It’s important for the girls to stay aware of how they treat one another and others. That kind of thing will stay with them much longer than any fickle technology will.