Growing Pains

We have a tween in our house.  From what I can tell, a tween is what used to be called a grade-schooler but the marketers figured out they could make kids want more stuff if they called them 'tweens' and marketed directly to them.  I can attest that it works.

Our tween wants quite a bit of stuff for Christmas and most of what he wants is technology: Nintendo DS, x-box, iPod touch, cell phone, laptop.  That, and a hockey stick, pretty much rounds out his list.

Sad for the tween, his mother is practically a luddite and his father is fairly conservative about kids and technology, too.  There are no screens in his Christmas future this year.

This is partly because of Husband's and my generally conservative approach to what is now called "screen time," and partly because the tween in questions forgets, loses, misplaces, and otherwise loses track of almost everything he's responsible for.  His are not the hands in which to put a $250 smart screen.  Not yet.

Frankly, I've seen plenty of adults who don't use really good judgment about when to have their nose in a screen and when not to (although I'm sure there plenty who do, too).  I see plenty of smart-phoning while driving, while checking out at the store, while ordering in a restaurant.  I see plenty of moms walking down the street or down the store aisles with their face in their smart phone, while her kids pull on her jacket saying, Mom, Mom, MOOOOOOOOM!  The worst was at Mothers' Night at Sister's school: during the portion of the evening when the teachers were addressing us as a group, three moms were on their smart phones.  Every now and then, I even see Husband try to sneak a peak at his smart phone at the dinner table.  Um, hello?  So, no, I don't think I want a smart screen for my nine-year-old whose judgment centers are in their infancy, and who, by the way, gets plenty of time on computers, computer games, and smart screens at school.

As for TV and video games, the best thing I ever did was ban TV on school nights.  Not that our kids watched a lot of TV before, but the boys would often get off the bus and watch a half-hour show for some down time.  The problem was that it became more and more of a battle when it was time to turn the TV off.  Also, now that all three of the three lovelies are old enough to argue in earnest, there were more arguments about what to watch.  Not to mention that there is more and more homework as they get older.  Our solution was to say no TV Monday to Thursday.  On Fridays they can watch TV after school.  The result is awesome!  No arguments about TV.  More time spent outside.  And many amazing "projects" that never would've happened if the TV (or a video game, or a computer) had been on, such as the one pictured above wherein the boys were making a movie, and had hundreds of little characters drawn, copied, cut out, and sorted after school one afternoon.

The kids do use the computer from time to time to do research, spelling or math games, or just to play, but I do not agree with the school of thought that says the computer should be treated like any other household appliance.  Any household appliance does not contain an infinite number of clickable links and advertisements.  Any household appliance does not contain endless possibilities for being entertained.  Any household appliance does not contain whatever drug the computer screen contains that makes my kids never want to turn it off.  Not to mention all the other, unpleasant rabbit holes that you can go down online, but in the refrigerator not so much.

So, we are conservative when it comes to screens and electronic games.  I know there is probably an x-box in my future.  I know I will have to give a little, just as our tween will have to wait a little.  But I do think something important is lost if we hand our kids over to technology too soon or too often.  We lose time to connect with one another.  We lose chances to create something new that wasn't here before.  We lose a half-hour in the sun (or the snow, as the case may be).

Our tween might be a little disappointed on Christmas morning.  I don't really know if the other gifts we've thoughtfully chosen will balance out the disappointment of not getting a Nintendo DS, an x-box, an iPod touch, a cell phone, or a laptop.  I know many of his friends have many of these items; some even have all of them.  But I'm trying to remember that learning to wait and suffering disappointments are good life lessons, too.

Sheesh -- it's hard not to long for the days when the only thing he really wanted for Christmas was a fire truck, with a ladder, Mom!  Now that I could handle.


ljchicago said...

Our world needs more people who think the way you do.

drew said...

I love the ban on weeknight tv.

Maybe my husband and I (who do not even have children) should institute this policy. Just think of all the books to read! Letters to write! Music to hear!

Sarah K said...

Thanks to your inspiration we are trying the "no tv on weeknights" thing. However, at our house we have had to institute several papal dispensations about exceptions...like, if it's your birthday you can watch tv after school, or, if you are puking you can watch tv ... :-)

And now I must rant a bit, dear Molly --

It is frightening how many parents throw technology at their children. Why? To keep them quiet, out of their hair? I can think of no other reason for parents to supply children with copious amounts of technology other than to benefit the parents by providing them with more free time. And, sending an elementary school child out into the world with unmonitored internet access is completely irresponsible.

This comment is sounding like I am the type of virtuous parent that hasn't ever used tv to pacify her children. Not true. But, I do know that every moment spent on tv and video games and sitting around looking at YouTube videos are moments that are lost forever. Moments that could have been spent reading or thinking or dreaming or simply playing.

You know how 40 is the new 30? I think that elementary school is the new middle school. We seem to think we have to supply our kids with so many electronic gadgets that, yes, are cool, but are really more appropriate for older kids. Elementary school is a wonderful time in the lives of our children. A time when they are still young enough to enjoy school and their teachers are sweet and caring and the environment is one of kindness. Let's not ruin it by letting our kids run wild on YouTube or by shoving an iPhone in their face so they can play Angry Birds every time they find themselves in a situation where they have to wait.

Thanks for your post, Molly, and thanks for planing your feet firmly on the side of reason -- ljchicago is right...we do need more people in the world like you!