It was a simple ask; clean your room before dad gets back. I was recording an episode of Fatherhood Wide Open, which gave her an hour to get it done. She understood, or so she said; and as I turned toward the basement she reached for the remote.
Television is her crack cocaine. Her grandmother says she’s no different than her father at that age. I still remember mom spraying water in my face to break the spell held by Transformers and Thunder Cats.
As I walked back upstairs I had every reason to believe her room would be straightened up. Those hopes were quickly dashed. Making the turn towards her room it seemed a heard of wildebeest were headed at me. Her door was immediately shut just after letting in a military battalion, apparently. The floor was shaking; drawers were opening while others were slamming closed. I knocked, walked in, and watched the color evaporate from her face.
She was thoroughly busted.
Oblivious to the carnage around her, for the last hour she had remained entranced by two episodes of Drama Island, a tween cartoon version of Survivor. Excuses, explanations, and reasons spewed forth like a broken water pipe. I gave her 10 minutes to be done and downstairs.
A parenting moment was about to happen.
The timing was Providential. I had just ended a conversation with Bill Ratner, a voice actor, entertainment insider, and author of the book, Parenting for the Digital Age. We discussed Hollywood and the media’s goal to get children hooked on a diet of commercialism and celebrity worship, then discussed things parents might do about it.
What struck me most was Bill’s conviction that when it comes to technology, including television, boundaries are not just good they are absolutely vital. Perhaps more surprising was the thought that the best way to do this might be for parents to let their children build those boundaries for themselves.
Arguably, this seems as futile as it sounds, but there was evidence. In writing the book, Bill interviewed parents and their teen and young adult children about growing up with technology in the home. He went further and separately asked the kids what they would do differently to control technology if and when they become parents.
Ironically, each said, in different ways, they would be more restrictive with their kids’ screen time than what their parents had with them.
This wasn’t the first time my daughter and I had talked about her obsession with TV, the phone, and computer. It’s one of the reasons why the Mac is in the family room, but I allow each of my kids to have televisions in their bedrooms. Netflix only so I can track what they watch. As we talked that night, she finally conceded she ‘might have a problem’ with watching too much television and computer time. With this admission, and from what I had just learned talking to Bill, I knew what to try next.
So I asked her, “If you were a parent, how much computer and TV time would you give your kids each day?”
A recent study out of Australia shows that 46% of third grade boys have more screen time each day than the pediatrician recommended two hours . Third grade girls are roughly the same at 43%. Yet by ninth grade those numbers become frightening; 70% of ninth grade boys are over the limit; while ninth grade girls are at a staggering 90%.
The study concluded, and Bill Ratner admitted, that no one knows what this all means or what it will ultimately do to kids. What we do know is that kids’ attention spans are shortening, sleep for many is waning, and obesity continues to rise. But it may take years or even decades before anyone can say conclusively what the impact will be from our children’s use of, and for some, addiction to, technology.
No sooner had I asked this than I immediately questioned the strategy. Surely she would come back with something like, ‘never’ or ‘until bedtime’. I prepared my retort waiting for her reply.
To my absolute astonishment she then said, “One hour on school days, two hours on the weekends.”
My jaw hit the floor!
That was less than recommended and far less than most kids her age, at least kids in Australia. Better still, I was prepared to give her more. My daughter had just confirmed what those kids had told Bill, and this led me to think, perhaps kids actually do want their parents to have tighter controls over technology than we have been led to believe.
The most beautiful thing in all of this is that her suggestion makes my life, as a father, infinitely smoother. I don’t care if she’s convinced she pulled one over on her old man, since I was so excited I immediately agreed to her proposal, stopped being mad and never grounded her. She was thrilled she didn’t lose her phone or television privileges. I was happy she painted herself into a corner.
And far be it from me to let on I got the better end of the deal.
None of this means I’m not perpetually telling her to watch the time, but whenever I get a look of exasperation for being a technology tyrant, I gladly remind her she showed me how to be one.