Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.
So there we were, at the parents evening at my son’s new school. The teacher had finished her spiel and she asked if there were any questions.
Then my husband’s hand shot up. He asked the teacher if the school had a policy on computer usage by children…at home. She paused, not quite sure how to answer. And then he threw it open to the crowd. Did other parents have concerns about their children’s computer usage and if so, how strictly did they police it?
I cringed. After all, we’re the new kids on the block in this school. I’ve already spent way too much time worrying about what to wear. Now he’d gone and outed us as a bunch of laissez faire, pop-culture junkies who spent entire weekends playing The Sims as a family?
But in the wine and cheese that followed, it was amazing how many parents approached us to confess that they, too, were struggling with this very issue. One thing we all agreed upon was that computers are O.K. in moderation, but that there had to be limits. Here are five reasons why it’s a good idea to limit your kids’ computer time:
1. It’s addictive. A recent study in the U.S. suggests that one in ten children (usually boys) are pathologically addicted to video games. Even if you question some of the inferences drawn from this study, it’s still a staggering figure. And one that rings true. Hey, I should know. I used to be a smoker. The glee in my son’s eyes when he’s about to get a “fix” is as disturbing as the withdrawal symptoms (sluggishness, irritation) when he goes a day without access to his beloved Fifa09.
2. It impedes creative play. Ok, Ok. I know I sound like a scold. But it’s true that the more time kids spend in front of a screen, the less time they devote to creative play – roaming, exploring, thinking up imaginary friends. And such creative play is crucial later on in life for things like executive function (which, among other things, enables you to exert self-control and discipline). I’ve noticed that my own son’s interest in drawing – something he once did regularly – has dropped off precipitously as his screen time has grown. Maybe he’s expanding his communication skills with strangers, but the recent email he received in cyrillic does give pause.
3. It ruins handwriting. And good handwriting, in turn, trains us to think more carefully before we write. Don’t believe me? Just ask Umberto Eco. (I’m figuring if Umberto Eco took time out of his day to worry about this, I should at least give it five minutes of my own time.)
4. It exposes them to too much sex and violence. I consider myself lucky that my son only likes playing sports games on-line, rather than violent shoot-em-up ones. (Ok, mostly). But even then, I entreat you to check out the “grunt” that comes out of the server’s mouth on the tennis version of sticksports.com. All I’ll say is: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
5. It gives you a bargaining chip. Because kids get so easily addicted to computer games, if you limit access – rather than rule computer games out entirely – you have a great bargaining chip for inducing good behavior. We just instituted a new policy that limits computer time to weekends. My son, ever the negotiator, is now angling for school holidays as well. I see some room for manuever here…
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Image: Wii! by Zarzoso via Flickr under a creative commons license.