Rookie of the Year
The cracked screen and streaky pixels of a broken iPad.

Off Switch

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #165. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath and David Shimomura, who add any typos or factual errors that might appear within.

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My wife and I looked at each other with clenched teeth. The family – her, our two sons, me – were gathered in our room, just before bedtime books, for a special announcement. We knew this was either going to be a minor disaster…or a total disaster.

The announcement: Starting Sunday, coinciding with our annual trip to Block Island, we were all going on a fast. A screen fast. No iPads, no Nintendo, very limited television, for the next three weeks. 

“It’s an experiment,” we explained.

This was my wife’s idea. A few weeks before the reveal, she had assigned me a book to read: Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time, by Victoria L. Dunckley MD. 

Ironically, I had just written a piece for Unwinnable Monthly about the freedom I was feeling after quitting a toxic mobile game. My wife wasn’t aware of this; if I want to keep a secret from her – or, to be fair, anyone – I can just hide it in a Rookie of the Year column.

Despite the fact that lately I have been consumed by Tears of the Kingdom – that playing it with the boys has been a bonding experience, that it was headed toward being the source of inspiration for what you might otherwise be reading in this space – I was on board. 

Turning on screens, after all, had become an issue. We had set a rule of no playing games or watching TV/YouTube before noon, and suddenly weekend mornings had become a series of constant queries from our children about what time it was, accompanied by shuffling around looking like they’d been deposited on a desert island. Later, turning off the screens had become traumatic as well, often with tears and tantrums. It was getting out of hand. 

So, attempting to follow the book’s instructions for how to drop the bomb, we told the boys about the experiment. 

How did it go? Not well, but surprisingly it wasn’t as bad as we’d feared. Peter, our four-year-old, generally seemed OK with it, but we surmised he wasn’t exactly soaking it in; by the time bedtime rolls around, he’s usually running on fumes. Jacob, who is seven, and frankly our reason for doing this, wasn’t happy. There were tears, some bemoaning the premature end to his life, but really only relatively mild protest by his standards. In fact, learning that Dad was also following the rules – and that if he caught me cheating he could conceivably “punish” me – actually changed his mood entirely. That devil smile, made all the more sinister by a couple of missing front teeth, told the story. 

Curious how the experiment went? Well, I don’t know yet. We just told them last night, and, as I write this, it hasn’t started yet. In three weeks, I’ll know more. If it works, it might turn out to be more than three weeks. Or it might morph into a whole new set of rules on screen time behavior.

I plan to update my reader in next month’s issue. That is, if Jacob doesn’t catch me typing it on my iPhone when I’m not supposed to. If the next Rookie of the Year is ghostwritten by him – say, “Why I suck as a Dad, a true story written by Dad” – you’ll know. 

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Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.

 

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