Negotiating iThis, xThat and Every Screen In Between

A Facebook friend alerted me to an article on the Washington Post that has resonated with me in every fiber of my being. “Parenting as a Gen Xer: We’re the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything.”

I was born on the cusp of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. I remember the days in college of wrapping rubber bands around the punch cards you inserted into the computer. Then, just a few years later, I  purchased  my first “home” computer shortly after graduation.

I have three children. A 21 year old daughter and 10 and 11 year old sons. And that 10 year difference might as well be 3 generations of technology users. When we finally let our daughter have a cell phone, that’s all it was. A cellphone. You called people with it.

Now? It’s a phone, a mailbox, an urban dictionary, an internet surfer, a radio, a photo album, a camera, a video recorder. It connects you to your parents, your siblings, your family, your friends, your friend’s friends, and every other sick-o stranger on the planet.

How do you teach “Stranger Danger” and stay current with all the tricks that twist and turn by the minute?

screen time

One answer: You can’t.

My sons, especially Mr. 11-year-old, have been begging for a phone. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not necessary. I drive them everywhere they need to be. We still have an old-fashioned land line phone at home.

But if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m scared to death to break down and let them have a phone. It’s one less screen in front of their faces. It’s one less screen I have to worry about breaking. And it’s one less screen that’s going to take their precious innocence.

We have limited screen time. Weekends = 3 hours each day. Weekdays = unlimited. Well, that’s what we tell them – so they think they’re getting away with something. But between school, swim practice, baseball, Kung-Fu and Boy Scouts it works out to about 1.5 hours a day.

We have “Unplugged” days when no screens of any kind are allowed. We recently took an unplugged 4 day vacation to the mountains. Just fishing and hiking and board games and card games . Campfires and mosquitoes and skipping rocks. Books with real pages and that intoxicating “new book” smell.

It was heaven.

Like the author of the Washington Post article, I just can’t outright ban the screen time. It’s oh-so-necessary in this day and age. They need to be connected and savvy. On the other hand, I worry about what it is doing to their social skills. Will they develop a Dowager’s hump, hovering over their Kindles and iPads? And who ARE they talking to on xbox-Live?

This is truly a rickety-tricky age in which to live. Oh, sure. I know that every generation has its struggles. But this is one arena where we don’t have a role model to guide us. It’s trial and error. And with cyber-bullying and sexual predators, it’s an error that can be devastating.


I struggle.

And you struggle.

And our kids hate us for keeping them from their precious screens.

But that’s just how it’s going to have to be.


Filed under children, In the News, parenting

6 responses to “Negotiating iThis, xThat and Every Screen In Between

  1. I’m worried about the ages in which we have to teach that Internet means permanent and that you should never say online what you won’t say in person.

    For a while I was *that* mom who wouldn’t let my kids have screen time on play dates at our house. Now all the other parents thank me and say they’ve adopted the same rule. Because it’s too much. When they can’t relate to each other without minecraft, we have a major societal problem.

    I just don’t know how to navigate it all. For now, I claim poverty and limit what we buy so they can’t ask to use it.

    • That’s genius and I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought of it myself: “Unplugged Play Dates.” With xbox Live, they’ve already had their “screen time play date.” Of course, when my boys hear I’m limiting screen time when kids come over, they’ll never invite their friends over. Well, at least my house will stay a bit neater. 😉

      • Yeah, they learn quickly which houses to request. But here that only lasted a month. When the other parents heard why they got the brunt of the playdates, they adopted the no-screens-on-playdates rule, too.. Now all the kids are back into LEGO and Pokemon. 😉

  2. AH

    I love the idea of four day unplugged. I’m a millenial (no kids yet) and I would love to do that myself. It’s just that we don’t have many options where I live (UAE). The weather is too horrible to do anything outside so all you gotta do is go to the mall…might as well spend time with your screens. But I salute u for managing it with your kids. Keep it up!

    • I have to admit….our summers in the southern US can be pretty warm. They had a bit more screen time while they were off of school than I’m willing to admit. I comforted myself with the notion that because they were interacting with their friends through Minecraft on xbox Live then at least they were socializing. But I’m not proud of our technology driven play dates.

  3. My kids (21 and in college; 23 and working) were among the last of their friends to get cell phones – and yes, they were just cell phones. One was in high school and the other middle school, and the primary reason was that as a single mother, and working whatever jobs I could get, there were times I just couldn’t be where they needed me to be for a pickup. The cell phones became a logistical must.

    As for screen time, they were both in rigorous programs in high school and much of what they had to do / research was online. That was that. No way to “limit” – and just fingers crossed that enough reasonableness and judgment had been instilled to carry through.

    Now? When I see little kids on devices, I admit I find it disturbing. Some might say it’s the same as plopping a child in front of a tv, but you knew what was on the tv. Not so, with the ubiquitous nature of apps / intrusions these days.

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