Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell: A summer without school-issued iPads promises to be both dimmer and brighter

The Kansas City Star

I guess the Pollyannas were right about the school-issued iPads. I got used to them. The school year is almost over now, and it will be time to say adieu to our rectangular little family members with their bright, shining faces.

For 11weeks, the outlets where they suckle at their electricity supply will be unoccupied. My husband’s nightly routine of double checking that they’re charging will be over. There will be no more mad dashes into the house to retrieve them — when they’re almost forgotten. No notes from teachers reminding us which days are especially bad days to forget the iPads.

My children’s faces will no longer glow; the unnatural bluish reflection of the abyss of entertainment and information will fade. The dinging alerts announcing new messages will no longer interrupt our evenings, sending my kids scrambling to mute them.

I’ve developed a pet name for the iPads, “%^&*$ iPad,” is how I like to refer to them — although certainly, not out loud, as I don’t use that kind of language in front of my children. Perhaps I’ll go days on end without such crass thoughts running through my mind. It will be quite novel.

Something else I’ve grown quite used to is the feeling of frustration. The constant second-guessing, the never-ending battle of knowing where to draw the line — the line that blurs so easily — has become a daily part of my routine.

…She’s reading a book on the reader. Oh wait, no, she’s playing a game. When did she switch?

…He’s doing math — by drawing with his finger and it magically spits out the answer. Wouldn’t it be better for him to memorize that?

…They’re playing Minecraft — a game so imaginative and wonderful that even I marvel at its appeal and nearly limitless ways to stretch the imagination. But they’ve been playing it for — oh, how long has it been? An hour? Two?

…They’re sending texts full of smiley faces and fart sounds. But they’re sending them to a cousin who lives hundreds of miles away — keeping up a relationship they might not otherwise have. Should I let them?

&%*^% iPad.

I’m used to the battles. What will I do when they don’t have homework that looks like games, and games that look like homework? What will I do when I choose to ignore our “no screens after school” rule for the thousandth time — because they have homework — and they never fail to start messing around when the homework is done? I have more to do with my evening than stand over my kids to make sure that every single app they open is legitimate homework.

I’m used to the guilt — knowing I’m losing the battle, and dang it, aren’t I the adult and the parent, and aren’t I supposed to have the time, wisdom and patience to win the battles?

The worst part is that the kids know — they relish how a “no screens” rule means they’re forbidden to do homework. They know it’s a rule that got mangled — and I couldn’t do anything about it.

We’ve learned loads this year on the iPads — how to install apps, how to troubleshoot VPN connections, how to upgrade iOS. We’ve learned that kids can be mean in cyberspace. We’ve learned how to make movie trailers for everything, starring all the stuffed animals in the house. We’ve learned how to rack up high scores in favorite games, and how to write entire stories and school projects without having to be able to spell beyond cave-man phonics.

Our struggles have paled compared to other parents I know. I know of inappropriate photographs being shared, kids conversing with strangers and anonymous cyber-bullying to name a few.

For summer, I’ll be happy to say goodbye to my dear friends, &%*^% iPads. The rules can return to black and white. And next year, I’m sure the Pollyannas will be right again. I’ll get used to the blurred lines of my authority.

Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes regularly for Diversions.