Screen Time: Hitting the Off Button

‘Twas a few weeks after Christmas. Not a creature was stirring. It was quiet. Too quiet. The iPods (thanks Santa!) were missing from the kitchen counter where our two boys had turned them in after screen time was over. We’d been through this just last week. And the week before. First sneaking, then lying, then minimizing and/or blaming. Then the consequence: Loss of screen time. Rinse, repeat.

They’d just been cut off from video games for several days. This was their first day back. I barreled down the stairs and found them in the furthest room, fumbling around with Skylander figures (the latest brilliantly marketed toy obsession tie-in to a video game). Skylanders have since gone out. Minecraft was just sprouting. Destiny was on the horizon.

“What are you guys up to?” I asked.

They shrugged with the studied insouciance of the guilty. “Nothing much. Just playing.”

“Any idea where your iPods might be?”

“Upstairs!” yelled the oldest, as if put out by the very question.

I glanced around. An iPod blinked across the far side of the bed, the screen still lit.

“Upstairs, huh?” I said, snatching it up. “And yours?”

The youngest pulled it out from underneath the covers.

Other than moving to a farm, cutting off the TV, raising your own livestock, homeschooling, and killing your kids’ chances for normal social assimilation, is there some final way to destroy the screen time Omnidroid? Some parents say they just sweep up all the devices and “put them away” and that’s that. Some parents say just kick ‘em outside and let ‘em play with sticks like the good ol’ days. Ah, yes, good ol’ 1978 when a kid could just be a kid, free from those nasty helicopter parents, roaming the streets the way it was meant to be. Some parents are just better than the rest of us — or they’d like (us) to think so.

Actually, once wifi becomes even more ubiquitous, once we’re so connected online with out jobs, entertainment and social lives, maybe we’ll trend rural. Maybe we’ll go 1878. Get out there on some land, tend a garden, raise some veggies, maybe some chickens and sheep. Maybe we’ll learn how to dry meat and make jerky. Things, anyway, that remind us that life is not a fantastic array of streaming images.

I’m no futurist. I’m not here to predict Utopian or Dystopian futures with, without, because of, or in spite of, technology. I’m a parent. A Gen Xer who’s learned this technology stuff on the fly, and only after I’d already established a (long and winding) career path. Here’s what I think I know: The on/off switch for devices is no longer as clear as it used to be. Entertainment streams 24/7. Social media streams 24/7. Video games have become online social experiences. You can’t just abandon your team because Mom is demanding your device!

We know enough to know what we should do. We should use our devices to leverage what is best in us. And one of the things that is best in us is us when we’re off of them. Set some boundaries. Move away from the device.

Now doesn’t that feel better? Well, give it time. Instant gratification is hard to shake.

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