Congratulations to Jessica in Oregon, Angie in Indiana, MaryKate in New Jersey, Jennifer in Utah, and Erin in California, the randomly selected winners in the Circle giveaway! Many thanks to those who commented and joined this important and at times terrifying conversation. I finally looked at the insights for myself and it was like I’d stepped inside an episode of Black Mirror. Whoa, the shiver that went down my spine.
A few weeks ago someone left a comment on one of my Instagram photos that could quite easily be construed as a harsh judgment on how much screen time I allow my kids. This may surprise some of you FINE ALL OF YOU, but my exposure to criticism online is so vast and rainbow-flavored that I can differentiate between those who are trying to be helpful and are perhaps oblivious of their tone from those who are going out of their way to be an absolute turd.
I HAVE EARNED WISDOM WITH AGE AND IT IS SO GROSS.
I offered her the benefit of the doubt (something I have been actively practicing since I got infected with yoga and a rash that spelled out “use your wings” erupted across my entire body) because I do play it up a bit. The panicked hysteria around excessive screen time seems ridiculous to me. I spent entire weekends of my youth trying to save the princess at the end of Super Mario Brothers. HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS. Oh. AND EVEN MORE HOURS. My mother had no idea where I was or what I was doing because we roamed! We soared! WE USED OUR WINGS! And on Thursday nights I’d watch at least 16 hours of television. At the bare minimum.
You cannot blame my ongoing public idiocy on that, however. Remember, I graduated from BYU. We clarified that this is the culprit.
My kids don’t roam, at least not as freely as we did. We don’t live in a neighborhood where they can enjoy that privilege. ALSO. Can we talk about the homework? Oh. Looks like we already did. Consider this a shout out to all the faculty at my kids’ school who read this website. Hola!
My girls are juggling a lot of homework, gymnastics, piano, projects, book reports, tests, and devil worship. Their evenings are packed, and that’s after a full day in the classroom. English author Sir Ken Robinson gave a TED talk about childhood education (yes, I am about to quote a TED talk, someone find a cure for this bout of yoga STAT) that I want to have tattooed on the outside of my middle finger so that when people get all huffy and puffy about kids on planes I can just hold it up:
“If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget. Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition. They’re suffering from childhood.”
I’m pretty liberal when it comes to screen time, relatively speaking (I’m not a total monster). I mean, I know parents who don’t allow their kids to play on devices at all during the week, and if you are one of them you’re going to catch flies in that open mouth of yours when I tell you that I allow my kids screen time every night. I do try to limit it, especially in the hour leading up to bedtime, but sometimes (all the time) that can be hard to stay on top of as a full-time single parent. I only have two hands, and I remember years ago thinking, “I have no idea how full-time single parents do this.” I’ve been doing it for well over a year now and I still ask that question. Often out loud. Even though I know the answer. Sorry, serious dooce® for a minute: We have no choice. We just do it. The end.
Back in spring when I announced that I was drastically cutting back on sponsored blog posts I got approached by a ton of brands who said, “We read that you don’t want to do sponsored blog posts anymore. Great! Will you write a post about us?” Not kidding. One even asked if I’d like to feature their new washable diapers that they’d send over for my son Marlo. I saved that in the folder where I keep every email addressed to Sarah Armstrong and Heather Anderson.
During that time a startup reached out about working with me on my social channels where I’m much more comfortable adding #Sponsored or #ad to a line of text. They’d developed a device that just plugs into your router and from there can manage every device on the network. And by manage I mean give me an extra set of hands.
A sister wife.
I put my pinky into the corner of my mouth, emailed back and said, “Go on…”
This is the “meticulously styled, design blog photo” of the device:
Turns out that when they said “just plugs into your router” they weren’t kidding. It would have been a deal breaker for me had it not been so simple because there are 60 million things in this house plugged into, I don’t know, maybe you can tell me how many routers I have and what wire connects to what when you see the “not meticulously styled, reality-laden mommy blog photo” of the device:
Today I am using an app on my phone called Circle that sets time limits for both girls (including how much time they can spend on a specific platform or app [oh, remind me to tell you why I finally understand why Leta was more excited that I was going to be in the same room as Tyler Oakley than she was about me being in the same room as the POTUS]), filter their content according to age/maturity level, and set a bedtime for devices. I can even pause the Internet right in the middle of a Minecraft video. Just to go out of my way to be an absolute turd.
Yeah, so why am I writing a blog post about this, HEATHER B. ARMSTRONG? Didn’t I say that I was drastically cutting back on sponsored blog posts? Those are your exact words, WOMAN.
First, this is my blog and I will do whatever the hell I want to do with it. You are not my mom. (Except for you, Mom. And we both know that I don’t listen to you [ducks to avoid the ceramic rooster being thrown at my head].)
I was the one who recommended that I write about it after I used it.
End of story. Except, not.
Second… second is the story about Leta, and it’s something that I would have written about anyway. Because I set up the device and the profiles for everyone in the app while the girls were in school and then forgot that I’d need to explain it to them when they got home. I got distracted with work, and when I was done for the day I came upstairs from my home office to find Leta doing something on her phone (yes, she has a phone, her parents are divorced, no further justification needed). Out of curiosity I wanted to see how much time she’d spent online, so I pulled up the app and WHOA HOLY PINK SPRINKLES ON A CORNDOG. She’d spent 45 minutes already on… YouTube.
Those of you who don’t let your children touch devices? Sorry about that. I will help you cover the cost of any injury you suffered from falling over.
The insight! YEOW (read that in the voice of a cat that just got flicked in the nose). No wonder she’s a bigger fan of Grace Helbig than she is of anyone who stars in a nationally syndicated television show! I snapped off my phone, stuck it in my back pocket and walked over to her.
“Why don’t you get off of YouTube and read a book,” I said without any intonation.
Hahahah! Haha! Hahaha! Haaaaaaaaaa! You guys! I think I get grandparents now! You have children so that eventually you can mess with them! The look on my face when I find out that my mother has let Marlo eat seven cinnamon rolls and drink a Diet Coke for breakfast? Probably as satisfying to my mother as the look on Leta’s face was to me.
I am a horrible person. And I don’t care.
AND THEN! After dinner she snuck off to her normal chair, slung her legs over the side and turned on her phone. Five minutes later I thought I was hearing a remix of that footage you see of women losing their minds when The Beatles come off of that plane except the women are all chickens.
“WHAT HAPPENED! What is wrong with the wifi! The wifi is being weird! WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PHONE!” she finally managed to enunciate.
“Oh, that,” I responded with no intonation. “It appears you have reached your time limit.”
And then I did this. This exactly:
You guys, when I looked at Marlo’s profile at the end of that day… I mean… this has to be the best part of it all, the singular reason why I’m WRITING A SPONSORED BLOG POST, but it’s not. But it should be: she’d spent a total of 18 minutes online. Looking at “science and technology” related websites in a browser.
What. On. Earth.
That kid is a living, breathing Jack-In-The-Box toy.
So, not only do I have an extra set of hands to keep track of their screen time, I also get insight into my children. I’m seeing inside a part of their personality that had before been curtained off.
That’s been the most fascinating part for me, and while some of you may consider that policing I will admit that before this I had no idea what or who or huh? my kids were doing online other than being comforted by the fact that I had taken a bunch of time figuring out how to set “restrictions” on each device. And Circle even takes care of that for me by filtering the content across all the devices. It pretty much stops short of creating a Minecraft video to keep Marlo entertained so that I don’t have to scream from inside the locked bathroom, “I get to do this alone, how many times do we have to go over this!”
And just so we are clear. Permanently taking away all the devices or limiting screen time to zero minutes as an alternative to this is not an option in my household. Because I, too, was once a kid. My parents would not let me watch MTV or HBO or own a Nintendo, so I spent as much time away from home as I could at my friends’ houses watching MTV and HBO and playing Nintendo. And my parents had no idea.
THIRD WHY YES INDEED THERE IS A THIRD WHY STOP AT TWO WHEN YOU CAN HAVE THREE. In fact, why stop at three when you can have five? Because Circle has given me five devices to give away for the holiday. And as a full-time single parent, this is exactly what I would want to give myself. An extra set of hands. A sister wife, especially in this capacity.
This is the glaring reality for those of us who are parents of this generation: being online is and will always be a part of my childrens’ lives (don’t even get me started with cyber bullying) on a scale I did not ever comprehend when I gave them those lives. Managing it effectively is now as important and vital as sitting down together at dinner. Which we do. Every night. Every single night. And while we eat I can ask Marlo to expound on the “science” she learned that afternoon (What. On. Earth.).
Circle is still in its early stages and is only available in the United States and on iOS. Leave a comment below preferably sharing your thoughts about the Internet and what it means for our kids’ generation. I’ll close comments tomorrow night at Midnight EST and then randomly choose five winners, contact them via email, and then announce them in an update on this post afterward.
Also, you can just buy one here. They’re having a Cyber Monday sale, today only.
OH! And then there was this… I let the kids use an old laptop of mine, and one night I tried to use it to look up something I needed in a hurry from my website. Mmmmyeah. FILTERED! I guess this site isn’t for kids?
This post was made in partnership with Circle, and apparently Marlo is a nerd.