I’m a repeat offender.
I’ve checked my text messages while at the dinner table with my kids. I’ve checked my Twitter feed at red lights while my kids are in the car. I’ve rushed to tuck my children into bed so I can reply to e-mails.
Thank the goddesses there’s not a cyber cop following me around. Though perhaps that might curtail my deleterious digital behavior, which has exacerbated since I’ve owned a smart phone. It’s been less than two years, but already I panic if I inadvertently leave the house without my little vibrating connection to the world. What if someone texts me, and I don’t reply immediately? What if I miss breaking news on Twitter? What if someone posts a cute photo of a dog, and I don’t get the chance to “like” it?
Yes, I have a problem.
If they haven’t already, it won’t be long before rehab centers start electronic addiction programs. And I might be a candidate.
You may ask if constant digital monitoring really is problematic. Here is why I think it is. Recent studies show that kids who spend lots of time watching screens can have increased attention problems and aggressive behavior and diminished social skills (that’s for kids who watch just more than two hours per day — and all screens count). Another study says teens that spend lots of time online often have trouble making eye contact with real people. Sure, there may be other factors involved, but these studies worry me.
Now that I’ve admitted I have a problem, I’m going to tell y’all what I plan to do about it.
I’ve realized it’s not enough to try to limit my kids’ screen time, but I need to limit myself as well (especially since my kids are at the ages where I’m no longer constantly monitoring them). Especially when I’m with them, I want to minimize screen zone-out, both to be a decent digital role model and to promote real human interaction and communication among us. After all, between school, sleeping, activities and joint custody, I really don’t spend that much time with my kids. Several hours a week sans screens isn’t much, right?
One way I’m going to do this is to follow the same rule that I impose on them — no screen time after 7 p.m. The thought of following this rule makes me twitchy. I’m already wondering how I can cheat it.
Many corporations, even Yahoo, now require employees to turn in or drop their smart phones into a basket before going into a meeting. Because it’s difficult to communicate face-to-face and brainstorm if everyone’s reacting to their phones. I’m going to do the same during meals with my kids. I’m actually going to turn my damn pocket computer off and close my laptop. Don’t even try to text me during dinner. My hope is that when my kids get their own cell phones, they’ll be accustomed to this rule.
Finally, I’m going to try to teach my kids that electronic blackouts can be fun. There’s no reason I need to be checking my phone while we’re in the woods or taking the dog for a walk or going camping for a weekend. While I might still have the phone with me in case of emergency, I don’t need to check it regularly. Alright, taking deep breaths here.
I do have a couple caveats to my plan. I make my living by writing, and there are times that I have deadlines and must work while my kids are around. But that’s work, and now so many parents work on computers and from home, kids need to respect that and understand the difference between actual for-income screen time and playing on social media sites or streaming old TV shows.
Also, I now read most of my news on-line. And while I’m saddened, in some ways, by the diminishing amount of actual newsprint in my hands, I realize that the future of reading includes screens. So now and again, if we’re all reading together on a screen, that’s preferable to other ways we might be spending time in the same room on screens.
Wish me luck with dealing with curbing my little addiction. When the delirium tremens start, I’ll let you know on Facebook. Or maybe not.