Saturday, January 26, 2008

(Narcissistic) Reflections on the Screen Time Conundrum

As usual, it all comes down to me.

This morning E woke up long before the rest of us. She brought a book into my bed and read for an hour. Then she played dress-up games on the computer and emailed her grandmother. S finally got up, made her breakfast, and got her dressed. Since then, as the rest of us have staggered into the day, she has banged on a drum, composed a song, had a parade, and now she is playing teacher, writing the daily message and various other instructional communications on the giant pad of paper and reading them aloud to invisible students.

Not exactly the picture of a mindless drone enslaved to the computer.

I decided to try the limitless strategy. M and E basically are on the computer whenever they want, and my only response is to tell them to turn down the sound because it's driving me crazy (I fear that in years to come, when asked what their mother said most often during their childhoods, they will say, in unison, "you're driving me crazy).

E is now leading the invisible students in rehearsal for "The Land of Sweats" (which refers to candy, not workout wear), a play based on the song composed earlier.

All indicators suggest that my children are just fine. They swim two or three times a week, love gym, walk to school (M takes the bus, but there's walking on each end), wrestle, dance, and happily engage in any physical activity we propose. Their grades are as good as it gets. They have lots of friends (M's in good part facilitated by the endless IM conversation). They both read every day (when I suggested to M that the unlimited computer time seemed to be cutting into her reading, she pointed out that she spends hours at school every day reading under her desk, so by the time she gets home, she's a little tired of reading--alas, it is true, and her grades are still as good as it gets). S makes all these points, as well as the winter argument: once the weather is nice, they are outside, and computer ebbs away: another fine indicator.

So what's wrong with this picture? Obviously, me. And while a piece of my problem is aesthetic disgust (MY children spending hours on stupid girl websites, putting pixelated babies to bed and dressing up Hayden Panettiere?!), a bigger piece of it is guilt and the inevitable sense of maternal inadequacy. I'm not sure whether I know it or feel it, but it seems to me that if I were an more engaged mother, if I did art projects and cooked dinners they could help with and played board games more willingly, not to mention pretend games, they would be old-fashioned non-cyber children and everyone would live happily ever after. Even worse? I know that when they are on the computer I can do what I want without being bothered, and I kind of like that. Worse still? I am on the computer way too much, and I fear that I am the negative role model, and yet I can't seem to get off the computer. Really, I should be sent to the reform school for bad mothers.

Proof? Last night we got home and everyone was on the computer. Then M said that she was waiting for me to knit, so that she could knit with me. Now, I did not know this, but it was further proof of this all being my fault. And, indeed, when I settled in to knit, everyone came over to knit, and then E stopped knitting to have a minor tantrum, but that was followed by much singing and dancing on the part of E, as M and I knitted on the couch, and then wrestling by M and E, as I knitted on the couch. Domestic non-computer bliss.

The moral of this story: hmm, not quite sure. Maybe I should engage the children in doing what I like to do (knit, girls reading party, yoga, make Valentines [I do love making Valentines, despite my general art project aversion]) and not worry about what they do the rest of the time. Hey wait, that IS what I do. So maybe everything is indeed fine, and I should just stop worrying about it.


Jane said...

I could have written this one, except that my boys don't spend time on girl sites. I ask myself these same questions, regularly. I am on the computer too much (negative roll model), like that they are occupied so that I can be too, without interruption, etc. But I DO limit their time to an hour a day and STILL I worry. The truth is, knowing your kids, and knowing mine...they're just fine...and so are we . . . for the most part!

Libby said...

Like Jane, I could have written this one, too. Nick does still have a screen time limit, but it's pretty generous (two hours a day) and, frankly, I'm not sure that trading screen time for reading is all that important for him or for kids like ours,since they are reading & engaging their imaginations online anyway. I'm starting to divide things into sedentary/non-sedentary pursuits rather than screen/non-screen--and of course I'm still a terrible role model, being a primarily sedentary person. But at least I have a better sense of what it is I'm objecting to!

Kathy said...

your kids are MORE than fine!!! (chill)

jackie said...

I am also sedentary, like Libby, and like everyone else, I spend way too much time on the computer. Sigh. It's hard being a good role model.

m said...

you're fine and we're fine. don't worry!!!!!!!!!!!