resisting the screen-time juggernaut

I woke and had to take a leak in the middle of the night. Walked into the living room on the way to the bathroom, and there was my teenage boy, asleep on the couch, with the smart phone on his chest. He’s connected to that thing like it’s his lifeline. I have to do something. First, I’m going to look in the mirror. I spend too much time myself on the damned iphone. Can I ditch it completely, or do I really need it to make calls at the very least? Good luck finding a pay phone; the cell/smart phone is about the only way to contact people when you’re away from your home land line. And it’s plenty useful- internet, texting, maps, camera etc. But I’d really like to go without it.


I had lunch with my buddy Joe, who had just returned from a two week vacation to his home town. And he had visited a number of old friends and he was remarking on how some of his friends were doing fantastically financially, but they put so much effort into their job and so little into their family, that you could see that, although they had all the trappings of wealth, their relationship with their kids wasn’t so hot. Joe is a university teacher at a junior college so he’s not fantastically wealthy but he’s reasonably comfortable and he spends all kinds of time with his kids and now they are in their teens and he feels he has a great relationship with them. 

So we got onto the subject of parenting and my kids are a few years older than his and he said he appreciated being able to see me raise my kids, to get a few tips on what to do (and maybe what not to do) before it was his turn. He said he was impressed on how I involved my kids in XYZ what have you and he had strived to do the same.

Well, to keep him from going overboard and giving me undeserved praise I said, “yeah, but you know something. I’m sort of failing in my battle against the screens. I didn’t resist the tide and put my foot down early enough on video game time, and youtube time, and texting friends on the iphone time, and my kids are paying the price for my lenience.”

and he cut me off and said, “Man, that is universal. Everybody has that problem. Everywhere I went I saw that exact, same problem.”

and he told me a short anecdote about a family gathering and bbq at a buddy’s house, and everyone’s having a great time. The kids of both families are playing together and getting along great, and out of the blue his younger daughter decides to disappear and go down in the basement and start fiddling with her smart phone all alone. And when Joe found her she was playing some video game that of course she plays for hours and hours every week back home. And Joe says, “Hey, come on, put that down and come back up and join everybody. What the heck!?”

And she dutifully, without complaint came back upstairs and continued having a good time with her new playmates. No sweat, right?

Well, I think it was no sweat because Joe has raised his kids with certain expectations and he’s been reasonably firm in making sure they follow them. Hence there was no protest from his daughter when she had to turn off the video game and be sociable again. But Joe would be the first to tell you, he’s not perfect on this score…the fact that his daughter could just wander off and leave her friends and family to start playing some video game by herself means that

  1. she hasn’t internalized the lesson that there are times that you just don’t selfishly walk off and do your own thing… or
  2. she knows she shouldn’t anti-social, but she’s so hooked on the game, like a drug she needs the hit for, she walks off anyway.

I’ve seen families all along the screen time spectrum, from complete hands-off, do what you want parenting, to “there is no screen time in this family, as in no tv time, no video games, no smart phones.”

But wherever people find themselves on this spectrum, I think it’s safe to say that most of us parents probably wish we were a bit further away from the high-screen-time side of that spectrum. Certainly, I am in that camp. I have to admit that even though I saw this coming, I’ve been remiss and I’ve waited too long to put my foot down and set the hard rules about screen time, and now it’s going to be all that much harder to make the kids scale back, but I’ve decided I have to try. So a major parenting goal for me now, and something I intend to talk about on the web page and on the youtube channel, is how I go about reducing screen time, and tips on how you might do the same. And I hope anybody listening will help out by chiming in with their own expertise!