The S.A.A. – Screen Addicts Anonymous

‘It is too hot.’

‘I don’t like this book.’

‘This game is useless’

“I am bored.’

It went on, in stereophonic, jarring noise with both the boys focussing on both my ears. From clenching my fist, to grinding my teeth and finally shutting the eyes, I did everything to tune out the complaints.

And then finally in unison, ‘Why can’t we watch TV, mumma, why?’

‘Because the weather is so dry.’

That’s the ridiculous reply you give after you have spent the last one hour trying to explain to them the whole jargon about neurons and them dying due to inactivity of sitting and staring at the TV screen. And goes without saying, you make the whole neuron dying thing sound like a mass annihilation brought on by the evil television. And after the heads have bobbed in agreement and sheer horror, if the voices again pipe up and question your decision of shutting it, you say, ‘Because it is not 15thof July.’ -or any such interesting nonsense.

I admit that it is entirely my fault. The flickering screen is the best baby sitter that money can buy and then after the initial payment, there are no monthly expenditures, no sick leaves – just quiet kids deep in the throes of mind-numbing stupor. The kids never fought with each other or brought the house down while the screen shone back mindless shows, which meant I could quietly read or take the much coveted afternoon nap.  We usually wake up to the harsh reality when things get out of hand. And I am no different. One day, there was a huge tantrum because the power cut schedule had been changed and the big bad world had decided that their show timing was not important enough to be accommodated.

That was it – kids sprawled on floor with arms flailing and legs kicking around at nothing in particular was enough to get me to yank out the cable. That was about 8 years back. For the next year or so, I developed healthy jaw muscles with all the clenching I did. But once the dark clouds dispersed, it opened up a new, bright world to them. Initially there were protests – almost testing the steadfastness of my resolve. From refusing meals, to telling me that I was cruel and that the friend’s mum was an angel – they did it all. For sometime, they were even convinced that I was not biologically linked to them. But I firmly held my grounds like any non-genetically linked, alien mother would.

There is no gradual approach to it. One day they are plopped in front of it from the time they come back from school to the time they are pushed out to play and the next, the only images the screen reflects back are the two shadows of the disgruntled boys. So how do you wean them off it or more precisely how did I manage to go from shrieking monsters to the mildly grumbling ones? Here goes my list again:

  1. Shut it. Simple. There are no middle grounds. You know that screen gazing is up to alarming levels, when the sofa has developed two neat, round depressions where the vegetables had been parked. So switch it off.
  2. Explain: See, this is more like the reading of legal rights that happens at arrests in the movies – it is mandatory and holds no meaning to the culprit. So tell them how it is bad for them and get it off your head. They won’t understand. Nevertheless, we shall do the right thing.
  3. Hold a peace meeting. Give them selective power. On the weekend they can catch one show, which they have to agree on and let me know. Two birds with one stone: It gives them confidence that some things are still in their hands and they are forced to cooperate with each other. Ta da!
  4. Stick to it. You know how rehab works. There will be withdrawal symptoms ranging from tantrums to questioning your parenting skills. Deep breathe and clench your teeth – again. You relent once and you are telling them that whining works and in no time you’d be reduced to those slot machines in a casino – keep pushing the levers and jackpot will be hit eventually.
  5. Give alternatives. Always remember, no kid can stay bored for a long time. So slip in alternatives on the sly. Do not tell them the purpose or else they would not even touch it for sometime trying to keep up the protest.  Just leave stuff lying around and feign ignorance. And soon they will bite the bait. Books are my favourite bait.
  6. Bring in the stars: As I have always maintained, reinforcement works. Praise or reward the alternatives they explore. Again, do not overdo it. They are smart cookies and see through it all. The books that have been read, the running around in the park, and a whine-free day – all are potential opportunities to earn stars. A pre-decided number of stars earned can then be exchanged for something they desire. For heaven’s sake, do not exchange the stars for extra TV time!

After all these years, I still have days when I hear a distant grumble about how they cannot see their favourite shows all the time. The screen time definition has changed from the exclusivity of TV shows to include Wii and computer time as well.  Exceptions are limited to homework assignments involving searching the Internet, which has thrown up issues of its own. That would be a subject of another post at another time but hopefully before thing spirals out of control.

Now, most of the times, I find the boys quietly playing with elaborate armies of action figures or endlessly reading books. The voices complaining about the myriad of missed shows that their lives depended on are gradually losing the shrill decibel levels. I still have to yank them away sometimes, but now that is done to pull them away from books and not animated voices from the silly shows. We have proudly stayed screen-free for eight years, and are more of social-watchers now.

Originally posted at : The S.A.A. – Screen Addicts Anonymous