Is my son addicted to screens?
Is my son's screen use "normal" for kids his age? Or has our whole country gone insane, raising a generation of children who are dangerously addicted to any and every screen?
By Anne Collins
Game Boy was his gateway drug. “Please Mom, please let me have one,” my son Max* begged me for two years. Despite his insistence, I held firm and said no. Until my son turned 7 years old, I’d mostly managed to keep screens safely outside what I now realize was the flimsy protection of our home, a place I’d imagined offered safety and sanctuary. We didn’t own any gaming devices. About once a week, Max (*name has been changed) could watch a movie.
Why was I trying so hard to screen him from, well, screens? So many reasons. For one, my otherwise terrific parents let me watch too much TV — hours of it every day. Looking back, I wish they’d nudged me out of my stupor to read more and explore other interests, and I can’t help but wonder if that would have given me more of an edge academically.
My fear stemmed mainly from the fact that I know my son. Seducing him with their silent siren song, screens have a magical effect on him; more than books, playgrounds, time with his parents, painting — all of which he loved as a young child. At toy stores, when he was very small, he’d immediately toddle towards the plastic baby computers and bang away at the keys. At home, I was afraid if I willingly let my son get sucked the land of high-tech, I’d never get him back.
Amish aspirations, modern realities
Maybe I’d have had a better chance — like a few holdout parents I know who’ve kept their kids almost completely tech-free — if my husband and I agreed on this issue. He accepts most of my parenting philosophies, but wouldn’t go along with my desire to banish televisions and computers from our house. After all, he’s the editor of a national high-tech magazine and website, so he doesn’t exactly share my Amish aspirations. Nevertheless, I championed my cause and tried to ward off the high-tech tsunami as long as I could.
One fateful day, standing in line at our local taqueria, Max saw an older boy playing Game Boy. Max glommed onto him immediately. A minute later, he launched into his usual cri de guerre, pulling out every line in his 7-year-old’s arsenal. “Please Mom, let me have a Game Boy. I’ll do anything if you let me have one. Everybody else in my class has one. It’s the only thing I want in the world.”
I shook my head, hoping to avoid a public scene. Then the boy’s father, like some wicked specter auguring our destiny, turned to me, “You say that now, but it’s only a matter of time,” the evil one whispered in my ear. “I promise. He’ll get a Game Boy. They all do.”
I hoped the subject would be forgotten, but Max wouldn’t relent. His seventh birthday was just days away. Weeks earlier he’d lost his status as an only child when his little sister was born. On the very same day, his lifelong best friend next door moved away. Whenever I asked what he wanted for his birthday, he said the same thing: “A Game Boy. It’s. All. I. Want.” Over dinner, my husband gave me a look that said, “For God’s sake, let the boy have what he wants.”
That’s the moment I gave up. But if I had any delusions that giving him his heart’s desire would solve the problem, they disappeared almost immediately. Our never-ending fights about technology had just begun.