I came across a news piece recently that said 56% of children ages 8 to 12 watch online videos every day. This number has more than doubled from what it was four years ago.
This was unsettling information for a parent of soon-to-be 8- and 10-year-olds. However, because I am the keeper of all things tech in my house when it comes to my kids, I wasn’t overly concerned. They’re allowed screen time only when I allow it. I was smugly confident in my abilities of having the whole device situation managed.
What a fool I was.
It all started with an afternoon nap. After getting home from school, my 9-year-old son, Declan, walked in the door, dropped his backpack and beelined it right to his bed. He said he was tired and needed to lie down for a bit. Declan hasn’t voluntarily slept — especially in the middle of the day — since he was a toddler. It didn’t alarm me. Rather, it made me sweetly nostalgic for when he and his sister were younger and life revolved around a nap schedule.
The next day he did the same thing — door, backpack, bed. And the day after that.
Not only was he taking post-school naps so deep it was an effort to wake him, but there was the post-dinner sleepiness. Instead of clamoring to watch a little TV before turning in for the night, he was clearing his plate and marching himself right back to bed.
What could possibly be making a healthy fourth grader so tired every single day?
Immediately, I started doing Internet searches for causes of childhood fatigue. It led to me reading copious articles on symptoms of growth spurts and pediatric anemia. I had myself in such a lather that I practically pounced on my husband the minute he got home one night, shoving a smartphone in his face to show him results from WebMD.
His response? “He’s my son — we like to sleep.”
When that didn’t bring closure to the issue, he suggested I call the pediatrician in the morning if I was that worried about it.
It never came to that, because the mystery of the sleepy student would be solved just hours later when my husband woke me up to say that our son wasn’t suffering from vitamin deficiency or any of the other diseases I had conjured in my imagination.
Our son was exhausted because, instead of going to bed at night, he was waiting silently in his room for his parents to head upstairs so he could slink out and hop on the computer to watch YouTube.
Turns out, if you can’t actually play video games like “Roblox” or “Mario Kart,” watching gamers who uploaded videos of them playing the game is really entertaining. How entertaining? Well, according to the browser history on the family laptop, three-to-six-hours-per-night entertaining.
After the wave of relief that my son wasn’t, in fact, seriously ill, I was left with another whole problem to ponder. Declan had been cyber sneaking — and I’d had no clue. Now, the pangs of nostalgia aren’t for memories of napping toddlers, but for that simpler time a week ago when going to bed meant the day was done.
Looks like I’m going to start pulling a night shift.
Molly Cavanaugh of Channel 94.1 FM’s “Big Party Show” in Omaha is a mom to two children living in Chicago. She writes weekly for Momaha.com.