Unintended Consequences... Positive Ones!

My dad read to me a lot growing up: as a child, an adolescent, and as an adult. It was something I’ve always loved and very much wanted to do with Wolf.

When I worked full time, I fit in our reading time at the beginning and end of the day – usually over breakfast and again right before bed. We typically read stories somewhere between half an hour and forty-five minutes a day – an hour on a good day.

As much as we’ve prioritized reading with Wolf, we’ve never been a strict no-screen family. Since we’ve always read to him a lot, it seemed okay to let Wolf watch some shows, too. These shows were mostly on YouTube or Netflix, and almost all had some sort of educational perspective – mostly about dinosaurs, nature, or adventure. We figured that this mix would continue during our trip, with the balance tipping even more toward books.

For our first few weeks on the road, we let him watch shows when he started getting antsy on long drives. It worked okay, except that he would get so absorbed in his tablet that he’d be oblivious to the scenery and wildlife we would pass. Besides this, we noticed that his behavior was at its worst when he was watching shows – or even when he just thought they were an option.

Then, a month or so ago, Wolf was watching a show and acting up in some way that I don’t really remember now. We told him that if he continued whatever he was doing, he would get a consequence. He continued, and it must have been egregious because his consequence was permanently losing his tablet.  

I thought this was a huge consequence. But even at the time he was surprisingly blasé about it. We took it away over a month ago, and he hasn’t missed a beat. I can’t even remember the last time he mentioned shows or asked for his tablet.

Removing shows has opened some other new creative doors for him. It hasn’t been a 1:1 exchange, either. The difference has been exponential, and somehow has unlocked a whole new side of an already creative little boy.

For one, he is doing a lot more imaginative play with his animal figurines. He can get so absorbed that an hour or more will pass before he really looks up. As I write, he is under the table engrossed in a battle between dinosaurs and LEGO ninjas. [Spoiler: Ninjas won].

He has also gotten very interested in drawing and writing. Almost every day, he takes out his pad of drawing paper, pulls out some blank pages, and staples them together to create a “book”. He then spends hours filling the books with pictures, letters, and words.

Sometimes he wants me to make a book with him. Then, we’ll come up with a fantastically silly storyline together. Like our last one, which featured lots of slime, a tragically imprisoned baby unicorn, and Wolf as the heroic rescuer. Fully illustrated, mind you.

These days, when we’re driving, we sometimes let him listen to podcasts for kids. They’re still shows, but they allow him to still experience the world around him. One of our favorite’s is NPR’s “But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids”. We’ve also gotten into playing Audible books while driving, which we had never done before. We’ve started with “The Magic Treehouse”, which has been a big hit.

To any parents thinking of reducing or eliminating shows, I say go for it! It has been exciting and humbling to see something we imposed as a consequence turn into such a net positive for all of us.

Creativity, unleashed!