Like most mothers, I worry now and then that I am making irreversible mistakes when it comes to parenting my kids.  Often these insecurities are associated with universal scenarios for which “the experts” suggest Approach A and I choose Approach B.  From the time my sons were born to present day, there have been steady streams of these situations where I take the road less recommended – usually out of exhaustion, all the while praying that the boys will not find themselves in the penitentiary  30 years from now because I let them fall asleep with a bottle in their cribs.

Luckily there have been no signs of serious damage thus far, making me cling to the notion that “the experts” are not always to be trusted and exist solely to make us all anxious and give us topics to debate with other parents who twitch to the same drum.  Yet, there has been one piece of advice that I have been given every year for the last 15 years – and every year I ignore it.  And now I think I made a mistake, one that won’t be easily rectified.

It involves “screen time” for the brothers.  One hour per day has been the recommended daily allowance per child according to our much loved and respected pediatrician.  This screen time comprises ALL screens – video games, hand helds, iPads, Kindles, computers, and televisions.  And over the last decade I think we have perhaps adjusted that dosage upwards to meet our needs on average by about…..300 – 500 percent.

There.  I said it. Have mercy.

Over the years, Dave and I have used a formula of massive rationalization to derive an acceptable explanation for why our sons are in front of screens on average 3-5 hours each day.  We have given them “extra credit” for time spent outside and weeks at camp, re-started the clock if they switched screens from Xbox to iPad, and suspended all rules of engagement if the boys had friends over.  All of these excuses mask the ultimate parenting fail which is that we never tracked their time formally at all.  Sure there have been lame efforts to limit their usage, punishments that were loosely enforced, and daily pleas to “do something else for pete’s sake.”  But make no mistake:  We have let those screens entertain and mesmerize our children excessively.  And now, I fear,  they are borderline addicted.

It took me until this year to really understand that there might be a problem.  In years past, schoolwork was at a low enough level that everything could get done with plenty of time left over for hours of entertainment of their choice which took place almost always in front of a screen.   Yet, this year, with one in high school and one in seventh grade, the work load has increased, placing screen time and homework time in direct competition with one another during waking hours.  And you can guess which one would be winning without the parental interference.

Up until now, I really wanted to believe that we could all manage this First World Problem.  That my boys were different.  That I could give them the freedom to make good choices.  That it really didn’t matter if they hung out in front of a screen for a few hours each day.  But I now need to give Chase a 30 minute warning to get off the Xbox and Noah could give us a four hour regurgitation of Internet humor every day.  There have been more fights (and even tears) than I care to admit over who is doing what to whom and when as it relates to the brothers’ screen interactions.   No one looks out the window anymore on car rides – they bring their devices with them.  And I allow it – all of it.  The more I write it down, the greater the pit in my stomach becomes.  I have let the screens dictate my family’s existence in large part and I want it back.

I’m not sure if ultimately this parenting decision will make any impact on their future happiness or success one way of the other.  I can’t be certain, but I think my parents lost the “you are sitting too close to that television” battle with me back in the 1970’s – and I turned out just fine (if you don’t count that whole cycle of dependency thing.)  But truth be told, I haven’t made a worthy attempt at the one hour each day screen dosage since it was prescribed in the late 1990s.  I think it’s worth a shot.

There.  I said it.  Have mercy.


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