Monday, June 11, 2012

The Lone Ranger Mom

I went to a party a few weeks ago for a retiring elementary school teacher where I met several other teachers and the president of our school's PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization).

I was especially happy to meet the PTO President. Almost immediately, I asked her if she'd be interested in supporting a Screen-Free Week campaign at our school next year. Fortunately, she loved the idea, and it looks like I've taken the first step in seeing that local event realized in the spring of 2013!

I also had an interesting conversation with another parent and a school counselor. The mother bemoaned that her seventh grade son keeps badgering her for a TV in his room. He argues that all of his friends have TVs in their rooms, so why can't he? So far, she has not allowed it. But the squabbles continue.

The school counselor sympathized, citing the strong affinity that kids have for their own devices. She acknowledged that one of the toughest argument for a parent to stand up to is the old "But Johnny's parents let him do it" or "Jimmy's parents don't have any rules about it."

I guess I'm lucky. I haven't had any similar arguments with my kids. I have young elementary school kids who don't ask for devices. I haven't yet introduced them to many video games or an iPad. They each have an mp3 player, but I only put a few songs on them, and the girls don't know that you can download any song imaginable. Personal devices aren't allowed in school, so they've also had limited exposure to them outside of the home. (Even though they aren't allowed, my daughter's second grade teacher had to reprimand class parents twice this year for letting students bring phones to school.)

But I'm not naive. Eventually my kids will want a phone or other device to feel connected with their friends, and I can understand that. So soon it'll be time to consider our household rules regarding devices. Will I let my kids bring their cell phones to the dinner table? Take their cell phones to bed with them? Let them have a TV in their bedroom? I hope the answer to these questions is no.

There's a good chance that my kids will grumble because their friends don't have similar household rules. Several studies indicate that a lot of kids have a TV in their bedroom: 42% of kids ages 0-8 (Common Sense Media), 67% of kids ages 2-13 (Clinical Pediatrics), and as many as 70% of third-graders have a TV in their room (New York Times). To add to this, only 30% of kids have media rules in the home. In the face of these stats, and stats on other key family media issues, parents who say "no" may feel like the Lone Ranger.

For me, that's OK; I've never aspired to be the popular girl anyway. I may be on the road less traveled, but I do know this: Although I make a lot of mistakes as a parent, keeping my young girls relatively free from excessive amounts of TV, movies, and games is something that I'm convinced is the right thing to do.

In time, my kids will be introduced to more media and their own personal devices. But first I want them to learn that it's OK to be bored, and that they're creative enough to find something to play. I want them to be active. I also want them to be mature enough to understand the pros and cons of it all, to never assume that we have to embrace each value put forth by the mainstream media, tech developers, or other parents.

And hopefully, with open communication and clear expectations, the transition will be an easy one for all of us.

Or I may be in for a big surprise.

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