There’s nothing like the beginning of a school year to illuminate gaps in your family’s, um….discipline. After a couple of rocky weeks inspired us to take a closer look at our family’s rhythms and regimes, I found myself noting the central role that iPhones and iPads have played in all aspects of our disciplinary approach, acting as:

  1. Band-aid: When we’re in a setting that provokes disciplinary challenges, like a line-up or a restaurant, there is nothing like handing over an I-thing to keep otherwise boisterous kids calm and manageable.
  2. Carrot: “As soon as you’ve finished cleaning up the playroom you can have some iPad time.” That’s the kind of inducement you hear regularly in our house, where the promise of 1-on-1 time with the iPad is our most consistent motivational technique.
  3. Stick: The flip side of the carrot is, of course, our use of iPad and iPhone deprivation as the number one punishment in our family. Immediate misdeeds get immediate removal of the iDevices currently in use. Medium-size misdeeds get a daylong ban from iDevices. Major misdeeds mean at least 24 hours without an iDevice. Oh, what suffering!
  4. Threat: What goes around comes around: after hearing me threaten (or enact) iDevice deprivation as a frequent consequence for his misbehaviour, Little Peanut recently threatened to hide my iPhone and iPad as retaliation for a recent disciplinary conflict.
  5. Lifeline: I often use my iPhone or iPad to google for kid management tips when I’m faced with a sticky situation.
  6. Gold star: You might have settled for stickers as your reward for a job well done, but when we are really trying to get the kids to focus on a particular behaviour, their reward chart pays out in apps. Free apps, mind you. But it’s a very tangible pay-off for working hard on a challenge they are otherwise reluctant to embrace.
  7. Reward chart: Besides serving as the prize, the iPad can serve as the chart itself. I’ve been experimenting with various iPhone, iPad and web apps that support digital reward charts for kids. So far none of the iDevice apps are as satisfying as my preferred online chart system, Goal For It, but I would prefer to use a device-based app so am eager to hear suggestions of tools that are visual and sync to the web and/or other iDevices (so mum and dad can keep their charts in sync).
  8. Trigger: The iPad, in particular, often acts as a trigger for negative outbursts. Frustration at losing a game, resistance to putting away a device when we need to leave the house, insistence on buying an inappropriate game, sibling battles for control of a given device — all of these have led to meltdowns at one time or another.

Given the central role our iDevices play in so many aspects of our disciplinary regime, and in particular their frequent role as an outburst trigger, it should come as no surprise that we are reevaluating the amount of access our kids have had to the Magical iPad. (You want to convince me it’s really magical? Make my kids’ temper tantrums disappear.) I’ll be back soon with a follow-up post on the different approaches we’re considering.