I am beamingly proud to report that Greyson, who turns 3 in July, lives a predominantly screen-free life. Danielle and I have made it a top priority to shield him from glowing screens, be they of the iPhone or iPad or TV variety.
But we’ve also just had the sheer good fortune of being given a son who is thus far impervious to the deadening lure of TV. As a result of both our great luck and our good efforts, Greyson bursts with buoyant energy and wild creativity. To our utter delight, he would rather read a book or put a puzzle together or color a picture than stare at a TV show. (Unless there are animals on the screen, in which case all bets are off.)
Modern parenting seems to have struck a Faustian deal with portable screens. Parents who give their small children access to their phone or iPad gain the decided short-term benefit of a virtual babysitter (albeit one that is breakable and must be recharged daily). But at what long-term cost? It’s only a matter of time before we learn the fallout of raising a generation of children with Candy Crush instead of board games, iPads instead of books, and TV instead of playing outside in the fresh air.
I stopped by the library after work the other day. Turns out it was Lego Night, and the children’s section was packed with kids from 3 to 11. While I hunted for a pile of books that Greyson would devour, I found it hard to focus because there was a group of 3 older boys (9 to 11 years old, I’m guessing) playing with Legos nearby and talking very, very loudly. Almost everything these boys were saying was either irritating or vaguely unsettling. It would be hard to reconstruct any of the mind-numbing dialogue, but one line does stand out very clearly. Oddly enough, the boys were inanely discussing classic rock and one of them, who was roughly 10, cited a band called Kill the Body (which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist). Then he said, with an unmistakable note of pride in his voice:
“That’s what men do — we kill bodies!”
Listen, I’m no adolescent behavioral psychologist. And I do know that I said more than my share of dumb things when I was an awkward 10-year-old.
But I strongly suspect that any boy that age who sees “killing bodies” as a defining characteristic of manhood has almost certainly spent way the heck too much time vegetating in front of a screen. That kind of alarming and antisocial sentiment isn’t innate in kids, and it isn’t hard-wired into every child with XY chromosomes, no matter what the “boys will be boys” crowd says. It’s the feverish symptom of an American culture that’s infatuated with weapons and machismo and violence. A culture that apparently doesn’t even have the decency to shield its children from that infatuation.
Hearing these disturbing words come out of the mouth of a child re-galvanized my belief that in my own family, our core mission as parents is to deliberately set Greyson (and Violet) on a vastly different path.
And one of the central ways we will do this is by minimizing screen time and maximizing reading time, outdoors time, and family time in general. We will not leave our children alone in front of TV screens and computer screens and iPad screens, where they can easily stumble upon toxicity of every possible variety.
We will spend most of our time interacting as a family. And when we do watch a TV show or watch some YouTube videos, we will navigate them together. Our children will not join the zombie horde of glassy-eyed adolescents who are hypnotized and sedated by every available screen.
One more nugget of anecdotal evidence: I’ve had two different acquaintances in the last week tell me that their kids lost access to screens, each for very different reasons. And both of these fathers reported that their children were devastated by the loss. One, a pre-teen, became bored to the point of agitation and couldn’t even bring himself to read some books he had just bought from a book fair. The other, a teenager, became listless and depressed.
To my mind, this has all the makings of a nationwide crisis. We might as well be talking about opioid addiction given how much withdrawal — mental, physical, and even emotional — is brought about when our kids detox from the screens on which they’ve grown dangerously dependent.
I earnestly hope that through our best efforts, Danielle and I can help Greyson and Violet to be screen-resistant in this screen-saturated era. The hardest part is assuredly yet to come, as Greyson at some point gets old enough to hear about the TV shows and video games he’s “missing out on.” But we’re laying the groundwork, book by book, nature walk by nature walk, and the results are promising so far.
As modern parents, let’s not accidentally bequeath one of the worst habits of the modern age to our children. They deserve better from us.
Vive la (screen) résistance!