It was 7:05am, and I went downstairs to fix my kids some breakfast. It was strangely quiet in the house, and it didn’t take me long to realize that my 7-year-old and 5-year-old were still snoozing. I peeked into their room and sure enough, they were passed out. As I pulled their bedroom closed, something laying beside my 7-year-old caught my eye. Sticking out from under her back was a blue iPad. She wasn’t just sleeping a little later than normal…. Turns out, she had gotten out of bed shortly after I tucked her in, unplugged the iPad in the kitchen, and carried it to her room. I had no idea how long she’d stayed up playing on it, but I was sure it was quite a bit later than her bedtime.
I closed the bedroom door and told her step-sister not to wake her up yet. Then, I went upstairs to complain to my partner about my terribly frustrating child. The iPad (and screens in general) have become quite a problem for my daughter. She’s been sneaking around the house with the iPad, playing it when we’ve asked her not to, and she’s become obsessed with being in front of a screen if she’s not in school. She seems to have lost the ability to come up with anything else to do! When I found her in bed with the iPad at her side that morning, I was fed up.
“We’re going to need to have a BIG talk with her about this,” said my partner. And then it hit me: WE weren’t going to need to punish her. She was going to experience a little something called “natural consequences.” I quickly went back downstairs and told her step-sister to leave her be. Our work schedules, and my step-daughter’s school hours, would allow us to take our sweet time leaving the house that morning. My 7-year-old HATES to be late, and often drives us crazy by announcing what time it is and hurrying everyone along in the morning because she’s panicked about being late for class. It was perfect: Because she stayed up too late playing on the iPad, we were going to allow her to sleep as long as she could, making herself late for school.
When she woke up at 7:30am (we usually leave for school by 7:40am) and realized how late she was, she immediately suggested that she stay at home for the day because she was “feeling so tired.” We had a quick chat about how she had obviously stayed up late playing the iPad (which she knows she is not supposed to do), and that staying at home was not an option. She would be late for school, and if she was tired, she was just going to have to do her best to make it through the day.
In the middle of talking to her, I realized that I was enjoying this situation a little too much. The tone I was using, and how I was choosing to phrase things, was rubbing her face in her predicament. I was not hiding the fact that I was glad she was going to be late to school; that I was somehow “teaching her a lesson.”
The truth is, there was no need for me to point out her bad choice. There was no need for me to rub her face in it, or make sure she had learned a lesson. She hates to be late, and by staying up playing on a screen, she had overslept and made herself late. She had made a not-so-wise choice, and was now going to have to deal the consequences. Welcome to life, kid.
More often than not, I do not need to create a consequence for bad behavior. Consequences emerge naturally, born out of the universal law of cause and effect. If my child cannot put her clothes in the laundry hamper, her clothes do not get washed. If my child does not feed her goldfish, she is not given the privilege of having a goldfish. If my child does not do her homework, she will sit out of recess at school. If she does not wake up on time, she will be late.
It is not always my job to impose consequences, but it IS my responsibility to help my child learn to avoid unpleasant consequences and deal with them when they come.
“But what about the iPad? Didn’t you take it away?”
Yes, I took away her iPad privileges, but not in the spirit of punishment. When she asked about it, I told her, “that it looked as though she had been having a difficult time making good decisions about when to use it. So, to help her avoid those tough decisions, we had decided to put the iPad away for a while.” She’s not happy about it, and that’s okay.
I’m not sure when she’ll get it back, because honestly, she doesn’t really NEED the iPad. I think a break from the screen would be good for her. But, eventually, we’ll give her the opportunity to make better choices and if she can use the iPad appropriately, she’ll have access again. She’s on the learning curve just like the rest of us.