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Want your child off the screens? Try turning off yours

By Debra-Lynn B. Hook

I look over at my teenage son, who's had his hour of screen time for the day. I tell him it's time to shut off his laptop game and start his math homework. I tell him once. I tell him twice.

Finally, I lift my head and say, "Benjie, just get off the screens."

And I go back to my iPhone Scrabble.

Such irony. Such bad parenting.

It's like telling my son not to stand at the refrigerator drinking milk out of the carton while I'm standing at the refrigerator drinking milk out of the carton.

Children mimic their parents.

When it comes to screens, I have forgotten this. Apple is developing iPhones quicker than human evolution intended. Meanwhile, my parenting technology instincts went out the door with the dial phone, the television antenna and "The Wizard of Oz."

As a professional communicator, I can justify my own screen time. My flex-work from the home as a writer and photographer has me dragging a laptop all over my house and then some. I sit on my bed and post pictures. I lie on the couch and write. I take my laptop on vacation. I have 1,000 Facebook friends, three Facebook pages, two blogs, two Web sites and a never-say-sleep community of information and communication living inside my computer. Add to this a few months ago, an iPhone, which I said I'd never get because then I'd really be wired up 24-7. But the guy at the cell-phone store told me it's just a dollar to upgrade, the touch screen is really cool, and you can play iPhone Scrabble.

"You'll never be bored," the dude told me.

What a 2011 selling point.

My own fascination with - attachment to? addiction to? - 15 ongoing Scrabble games and a laptop that hums just out of reach until I turn it off beside my bed at night becomes more than just my experience. It's become my son's. And while it's one thing for him to witness a computer being used as a tool for life, it's quite another when it becomes the life; when it becomes the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night; when family time turns into "Mom's got do one more thing on Facebook, finish this last Scrabble game, write one more e-mail."

I am not one to slam all gadgets beginning with the letter "i," mind you. Within my generation of curmudgeons and naysayers, I have been an apologist for technology, believing it ultimately to be a good thing. I do also believe continuous digital communication has thrust us into the most overwhelming information revolution since the printing press. Just as people in the 15th century had to learn to put down the book while walking into a crowded street, no matter how engrossing the Bible was, so do we in the Information Age have to learn how to do the same thing. Only with our iPhones.

Unfortunately, when you're a parent, the nuance of social media and technology can't wait for human evolution and/or for the excitement to die down. Which is where marriage and family therapist and technology expert Jeremy G. Schneider comes in.

Schneider suggests parents take this family tech quiz:

Do you frequently respond to emails (work or personal) while your kids are right next to you?

Do you frequently take time out to post to Facebook or Twitter when you're with your family?

Do you rush to your computer immediately after dinner to jump back into your online game to unwind at the end of the day?

Do you put in your headphones while you clean up after dinner so that no one can talk to you?

Now consider this: How would your kids answer those questions about you?

If we want our kids to turn off the screens, to read books, to develop hobbies and friends, to go outside, to do their homework and clean their rooms, then we've got to do these things.

Funny how the rules of technology keep changing faster than we can keep up. But the rules of good parenting remain the same.

Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio (www.debralynnhook.com), has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. Read her blog at http://debralynn-bloopbloopotter.blogspot.com/ or email her at dlbhook@yahoo.com.

Comment by Sheila Vives, posted 3/2/2012, 7:13 AM:

Great article and about time someone got point blank about this.
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