Online school has made our kids addicted to screens. I’m glad it’s almost over

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Illustration by Kumé Pather

I think I hate online school more than my kids. Is not it ? Thank goodness this is about to end.

When 2022 kicked off with news of the kids returning online to Ontario, three of the four family members cried (hint: my husband just clenched his teeth). Because the memories of last year’s virtual learning for our daughters, now 8 and 12, are still fresh in our minds. And they are not pretty.

This would have been the third time our daughters have learned online (thanks, COVID). After watching them over the past couple of years, I can tell you what they’ve mostly learned is how to switch screens at supersonic speed when adults walk into the room, download new apps, and access to free gaming sites. Their dependence on screens continues to grow. No surprises there, as they were spending up to six hours a day online for months at a time in 2021 (and that’s before extra hobbies or family screen time outside of school hours) .

But during lockdown, when entertainment options were severely limited, you can’t help but come back to the screen as an individual and family. We would go out for a long walk on Saturday and then settle in for a family move. And yes, we told the girls, you can play the dreaded Roblox gaming platform on Saturday morning while we sleep.

We were there, screen generation four: 7, 11, 42 and 46.

Online learning allowed our oldest daughter to develop serious drama skills. She once sat next to my husband with an Oscar-worthy facial expression, busy clicking on his keyboard during class, and we later found out she was watching YouTube. My youngest became familiar with iPad settings, easily reinstalled deleted apps, and was able to sit for hours in the most awkward positions, curled up in corners to avoid showing us her screen.

What can I say ? They are both talented in their own way.

Learning online has also taught my kids to be flexible and fast. That is, how to hide things from their parents.

And that made my children brave. Not the heroic kind of brave, but cheeky. I once caught my 12 year old daughter playing Roblox games during class while standing right in front of her. My husband had a lovely day sitting with the kids at the kitchen table during the online school, doing his job. The children’s screens were not in his field of vision. The girls worked quietly and, it seems, studiously for hours on end with serious faces focused on their devices. When I checked at the end of the day nothing was done and on my youngest computer, the Roblox app was one of the most frequently viewed on his home screen. Right next to the school board’s web portal.

The students don’t really take the road anymore. Classic road lighting loses its charm

Reading books on the phone with my grandson made us both feel good

Online school has caused quite a bit of conflict in our family. My husband doesn’t believe in supervising children, “I can’t look at their screens all day and I have my own job to do.” Yes I understand. He also doesn’t like to be challenged. I understand that too. But I also know that once we get out of the room, Google, YouTube, and the gaming sites all work out. I know when I’m out of sight my 8 year old spends hours between 9am and 3:30 pm mindlessly playing games on the iPad. And if I sit next to them all day, there won’t be enough wine or chocolate to stretch my brain. Also – who will do my job, do the grocery shopping and cook dinner. Roblox?

Online school has made our kids addicted to screens. They started reaching out whenever they wanted to be entertained, hear music, ask a question, or have nothing else to do. For them, life became a screen, everything else was boring and just fell short.

Last year I considered removing my youngest from school. Although her teachers try so hard to involve her in class, she refused to participate and did the minimum that was required. His stubbornness and reluctance to play by COVID / school / parent rules meant we gave up after a while. Our daughter’s teacher and I were both a little broken by the strength of her determination. Even though it was incredibly frustrating (believe me, we tried various things), how could we blame him? When Zoom-exhausted adults find it difficult to sit in front of screens all day, how can we expect an eight-year-old to put up with it? And learn something while she’s at it?

So when the announcement came of a back to school online, we had a little cry. But after that, we had a family discussion and made decisions together. We have written to our respective schools to let them know that we are reducing screen time and focusing on learning.

This time around our daughters are only attending major subjects online – Math and English – and skip the rest if they wish. They finish their homework and exit their screens. I’d rather they make a gigantic mess by doing something offscreen than spending half a day online playing games.

And you know what? The sky has not fallen. It worked for us.

While we (well, maybe just my husband and I) do a little dance about the upcoming reopening of schools, we will keep our online school strategy part-time. When another variant hits, there will be no tears.

I just hope the roof doesn’t collapse before they’re back in class.

Natalia Tsygankova lives in Toronto.

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