I used to ignore my contribution to statistics about the time kids spend watching television and videos, playing electronic games and sitting in front of a computer monitor. After all, until recently we had only one television at our house, and we’ve never rushed out to buy the latest versions of electronic gadgets.

But my son’s 2001 Christmas list disabused me of my notions. It read:
·         Computer game and add-on program
·         Updated GameBoy
·         GameBoy game
·         Two additional Nintendo controllers
·         Nintendo skateboarding game
·         Two videos

My 10-year-old wasn’t requesting PlayStation 2 or GameCube or Xbox or a DVD player. But, everything he wanted was in the video/electronics category.

Although he would be pleased, I didn’t feel great about the heap of electronic goods waiting to be wrapped. But rather than trotting off to customer service return counters, I supplemented the pile with gifts I felt better about—some books, a game of mancala, and a ring-shaped throwing toy.

So what’s the problem with so much “screen time?”
·         Sedentary. The Journal of the American Medical Association released a study in December about the epidemic of childhood obesity. Experts pointed to television and electronic entertainment as key factors in this trend, and warned about overweight children becoming overweight adults with serious health problems.
·         Solo. Some personal downtime is good. When my son comes home from a busy social day at school, he relishes a little time watching age-appropriate cartoons. But learning to interact better with a machine than with family members, friends and neighbors is hardly positive.
·         Stealing. Even kids have only so many hours in the day. Too much screen time takes away from other creative and constructive pursuits.
·         Soiling. Electronic media can play with our minds, both by distorting reality and by introducing people—especially children—to material they are better off not seeing.

It’s not necessary to blame children for their interests or activities. Their interests are partly programmed by society. But parents can control activities by monitoring purchases of electronics and monitoring their use.

In and of itself, technology is neutral. Like anything else, it’s how and how much it’s used that matters. Electronic games, for instance, are great inventions, having entertained many a child on a lengthy trip.

The bottom line is moderation, which can mean different things for different kids at different ages in different families. Along with moderation is the crucial notion that our kids need to learn to control the electronics, rather than having the electronics (which can be addictive) control them.

Parents must set limits, in hopes that our children will learn to do the same.
But any expectation that kids will become less plugged in requires us to be less lazy on two levels.

Rather than sitting in front of the television or computer every evening, we need to lead a more balanced life. And we will need to find more time to interact positively with our kids.

If I expect my child to plug in less often, I have to be prepared to read, play a game, play catch or just chat with him—after I turn off my own radio, television or computer.

Karen Johnson Zurheide is a Dartmouth-MBA-turned-writer and former director of a Connecticut-wide parent support network. Karen and her husband and two children reside in Edmond, Okla.

Order Zurheide’s books from Amazon!
In Their Own Way: Accepting Your Children For Who They Are
Learning With Molly

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