I’ve Turned My Kids Into Addicts


I’m having one of those beat-yourself-up mom moments. No, not the “oh, don’t be so hard on yourself” kind but a real, honest “I really screwed up on this” moment, and I’m not too proud to admit to my mistake.

My son stormed out of the office tonight and threw a monster fit because I kicked him off the computer for the evening. As I heard him walking to his room muttering under his breath about how unfair life is and how unfair it is that his brother got to play longer, I had the harsh realization that this is my fault. After all, I’m the one that introduced him to this drug in the first place.

Screens are a powerful drug for boys. Had I known this when I started using, I would have thought twice about it since I didn’t realize the path I was setting up as I propped the kids in front of a Baby Einstein video (ok, maybe 2) in order to take a shower. Later on, I completely underestimated the power of the Leapster as I wholeheartedly bought into its educational content. When I upped the dose from GameBoys to Nintendo DS systems, it was the beginning of the end. I bought the DS systems for what I thought was a valid reason: to get us to Hawaii without incident. I should have known there was a problem the first morning, when the boys asked to finish one more level instead of jumping up to go boogie boarding. We were done. We were addicts.

I take full ownership because I like the freedom that a hand-held gaming system or episode of SpongeBob brings to me. I can get dinner started, answer a couple of emails, pay bills, or even enjoy a moment of peace and quiet as the kids are drawn into a world of their own. But when I think of the hours that I’ve pushed these screens, I cringe.

My moment of truth came last week in the pediatrician’s office where a copy of a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics said screen time – computer, television, hand-held games, cell phones – should be limited to one hour a day for children. This includes i-pods, iTouch, iAnything. I had to re-read the article to make sure they didn’t mean one hour at a time.

So I did what most moms do and when I got home: I went straight to Google for strategies to detox my kids. Maybe it’s a good thing that – like Grandparent’s Day – I missed the "Turn Off Your TV week" holiday as well. I continued to search but most of the tips were intuitive and not that helpful. Things like:

1. Turn off the television (Wow, insightful.)

2. Set good examples (I live on my laptop, Blackberry, iPhone, so I’m no help here.)

3. Limit screen time (Hmm, might be able to do this.)

4. Talk to your kids about the importance of not being on a screen (No comment.)

And then I found it. Commonsensemedia.org is a website that not only answered my questions but helped me come up with a plan for wrapping my arms around the new world of media for my kids. Finally, some solid advice. According to the site, I first had to figure out how much time my boys really spend absorbed in their high-stimulation screen world. I could lie, but since I’m on a roll, I’ll be truthful. I discovered that both of my boys are on a screen about 3-4 hours a day. Sometimes more, hardly ever less. After staring the number in the face, I knew I had to wean them from the screen and give them only 1 hour a day. How in the world was I going to do this without a complete mutiny?

I had a family meeting of sorts over dinner that night and said that we all need to monitor and become more aware of the time we spend looking at a screen. Dad and Mom need less Blackberry time and the kids needs less computer/DS time. We agreed that as a family, we could help each other out. The kids were given the ability to let me know when they’d like me to stop checking my email every minute, and I was given the go-ahead to set a timer to limit their screen time. For my 9-yr old daughter, this wasn’t an issue. She is bored by any game at the 20-minute mark. For my 17-yr old daughter, it wasn’t the gaming; it was limiting Facebook and texting that was going to be the challenge. She didn’t really buy into the whole concept, and I let it slide because I was mostly concerned about my 9- and 5-year old boys.

The past week has been difficult. The time seems to fly by and it has been a constant fight, every night. “Time’s up, honey” is usually followed by “can I finish this level” which is responded to with a “ok, 5 more minutes” which results in an “ok, time’s up, get off the computer” that leads to the under-the-breath muttering as my son stomps off to bed. On the flip side, I felt mildly annoyed every time the kids asked me to put down my iPhone this week.

I know I’ve got to stick to this plan, though, and teach my kids to set their own limits with technology. If I can help teach self-modulation now, hopefully they will figure out the tools to help themselves when I’m not standing over their shoulder with the timer. I know this is an important lesson because as I write this at 11pm, I still feel the need to check my email, review the wires for any news stories that may have developed in the past hour, and tweet about my love of tweeting. I’m a junkie, and I need to save them from being sucked into this technology vortex where the screen world becomes so much more compelling than the real one in which they live.



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