A new Kaiser Family Foundation study says that kids 8 to 18 spend almost 8 hours a day immersed in electronic media. My kids might like to do that, but they’re not even here and awake 8 hours a day in most cases. They’re at school, or playing sports, or at a friend’s house (playdates are increasingly video-game driven, it is true).
But on school days, the TV is off during meals. They go to an after-care program that limits screen time to 30 minutes or so. When they come home, they spend at least an hour or two on homework, or basketball practice, or piano, or Cub Scouts, or some family project. The TV is generally off during meals. After dinner, they finish their homework or they read or they play until it’s time for bed, when we work on things like spelling, and we read. But even if we had the TV on the entire time they were awake, it would amount to no more than four hours of electronic media.
Obviously they don’t yet have cell phones. Though the older one *really* wants one. ‘Dad, can i get a cell phone? When can I get a cell phone? So-and-so has a cell phone and he’s in 5th grade. So I can get a cell phone when I’m in 5th grade, right? Dad, can I get a cell phone?’
I’m old-fashioned and still think of phones as need-based, things you get when you need to make calls (i.e., I want to know where you are). I don’t disagree with articles like this one, Why an iPhone could actually be good for your three-year-old, and I have told other parents that gaming helps kids learn to collaborate, an important life skill. I also know that gaming is a kind of social currency for kids, especially boys, just like sports. I know my son wants a cell phone for gaming and sending text messages, and because kids he likes have them and he wants to be like them. But I also know how easy it is to do something you’ll regret online. I can only imagine what sort of stuff I would have posted in my youth.
So I’m starting now to help instruct him on what to do and not to do online. I set up a Web-based email for him, so his email use isn’t tethered to my computer forever (though practically speaking, it’s tethered there for now). I’m there to help him learn about spam and to make sure he doesn’t click on things. I’m not there to read his emails (though he does ask for spelling help).
I hope he doesn’t abandon everything else for the sake of the screen. But if he does, maybe he’ll become a national champion, like this kid.