Screen-Free Week 2014: The Successful Failure

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Kids & Technology, The World We Parent In | 4 comments

(Image courtesy hugovk via

(Image courtesy hugovk via

We did it. As promised, we visited upon the children a week without screens.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We had good intentions. Earlier in the summer, we had warned the kids that a screen-free week was coming. We laid out rules and a clear set of exceptions: communications via text or emails with friends would be okay (because “Texting is the New Phone Call”), as would anything related to work for the adults, looking up answers to questions we parents deemed educational or informational in nature (otherwise known as “Asking Dr. Google”), and other necessities of daily life in the twenty-first century. But when it came to entertainment, there would be no television, no computer, no iPod, no tablets. (We don’t have an Xbox or anything of that nature.)

This lasted approximately one half of one day.

The first slip occurred on Sunday afternoon, when the kids asked if they could watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island. We’ve been watching the entire series together over the past year, and the kids are enchanted by this hokey, dated band of misfits who can build anything, communicate with anyone, but can’t find a way off the freaking island. Sometimes the kids laugh so hard they practically fall off the couch. So they asked if they could watch an episode, and I said yes. Oops.

After I realized my mistake, I told myself it was family viewing, so that made it okay. I told myself the same thing when nine-year-old “Emmie” begged to watch So You Think You Can Dance, which we’d just started recording for her the week before. If we all watch it together, that’s family time, right? But that’s it, kids. That’s IT.

Then…twelve-year-old “Jack” hurt his back, enough that he asked me to take him to the doctor–a first-time event. So of course, when a super-active, sports-loving adolescent finds himself restricted to a couch, icing and heating his back for the better part of a couple of days, what are you going to do? You’re not going to read him works of Shakespeare. Trust me, he’s not interested. You’re going to hand him the remote control. There’s no other choice.

So our week wasn’t screen-free after all. But even with these major stumbles, we did achieve a week of much-reduced screen time. The small screens were barely in evidence all week, and the television was on much less than usual. And this is where things get interesting.

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Summer Vacation 2013: The Holding is the Most Important Part of the Reservation

Posted by on Aug 8, 2013 in Kids & Technology, Miscellaneous, The World We Parent In | 4 comments


Last week, my family went on vacation. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that we don’t take the ordinary approach to summer vacations. Journey to a destination, check in, enjoy activities, go home. What kind of an adventure would that be?

During previous vacations, we’ve lost a transmission and had our car towed from the top of the highest peak in the northeastern U.S., endured the near-death of the replacement transmission the following year in a mountain pass where one is more likely to contact a moose than reach a human being via cell phone, and found ourselves rushing to the same Urgent Care two days apart and subsequently filling a shopping basket at Rite Aid with bandages and other supplies to care for our mother-and-son wounds.

This year, I’ll let Jerry Seinfeld demonstrate for you how our vacation began (substitute the word “cottage” for “car”):

With the Seinfeld clip in one hand and a vodka mojito in the other, by dinnertime I was able to laugh at the fact that when we showed up at the beach cottage we’d carefully selected and paid a deposit for in April, said cottage had also been rented to someone else–someone who’d gotten there before us and had already settled in.

Somehow, I managed to keep in mind the entire time we interacted with the proprietor that my children were with me and I wanted to set a good example of how to deal with a bad situation. I kept all the profanity in my head.

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How to Be a Considerate Mom – An Example from My Inbox

Posted by on Jun 7, 2013 in Kids & Technology, Parenting on a Daily Basis, The World We Parent In, Tips, Recommendations & Warnings | 0 comments


Not long ago, I received an email invitation for eleven-year-old “Jack.” The mother of one of Jack’s friends was inviting him to a sleepover party. The invitation included the usual details: date, time, activities planned and so on.

One line grabbed my attention: “Please let us know if your child has any allergies, special food requirements, off-limits video games, etc…” (Emphasis added.)

I was surprised–and impressed.

Of all the invitations Jack has received, this is the first one that essentially said, “We may have different rules in our house than you do, and we want to give you the opportunity to weigh in before your child is exposed to something you would prefer he not be.” In fairness, many, if not most, of Jack’s friends parents don’t have these games in their houses, so such a question in other invitations might not be necessary. But in a world where it seems fewer people consider others’ points of view every day, I give major credit to this mom for recognizing that what’s okay with her, for her kids, might not be acceptable to her kid’s friends’ parents and for reaching out to them to ask.

The result? Jack’s friend’s mom told me that about half of the parents (including me) reported that violent video games were off-limits for their kids, and so those games were not part of the sleepover party.

This mom and I disagree about whether violent video games are okay for kids. But I respect and appreciate her for being considerate enough to ask about my kid.

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And the iPod Changes Everything–Or Does It? (Part II)

Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Education & Learning, Kids & Technology, Parenting on a Daily Basis, The World We Parent In | 3 comments

tween iPod Touch

(Image credit: Toca Boca via

Last week, I wrote about the adjustments in our house–and my attitude–toward the tween and his new technology after I realized that “Texting is the New Phone Call.”

“Jack” is now allowed to text seven days per week. It’s a big exception to our previous screen-time rules, but I believe it’s a good one.

Texts aren’t the only exceptions that have crept into those rules, however. The iPod Touch in a tween’s hands is like the tiny, hairline crack in the foundation of your basement that your handyman tells you might possibly one day let in a smidge of dampness, only to discover that by the end of the spring rains, you have three inches of standing water covering your basement floor.

The rules began with a bright enough line: no screen time during the week. The inevitable result of this declaration was that both children got off the school bus on Fridays, tossed their backpacks aside and dove for any and every device within their reaches–preferably all at once. Food, verbal interaction, even bathroom needs were secondary.

The kids hoarded their screen use into the weekends, and we began to impose limits then, too. Jack in particular had a tendency to turn into a grunting, Neanderthalish version of his usual self following too many hours in front of the small screen. After witnessing this phenomenon repeatedly and consistently over a long period of time, we explained what we had seen. He didn’t deny it, and mournfully agreed to comply with the limits.

Enter the iPod.

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Texting is the New Phone Call

Posted by on Feb 14, 2013 in Kids & Technology, Parenting on a Daily Basis, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

tween texting

(Photo credit: jfiess via

Here we are again. Back in the murky, increasingly complex world of kids and technology, where, unless you are an IT professional, it’s almost a given that your teen or tween offspring knows more about everyday tech than you do. They’re certainly more comfortable with it.

And yet, you–we–are the parents. We make the rules, we transmit the values. We must apply the rules in a manner consistent with our values. Be flexible, firm and fair.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But as the kids get older, I’m finding that it’s not that easy.

A few months ago, eleven-year-old “Jack” got an iPod Touch, something he’d coveted for nearly a year. Jack received an affirmation of rules with his iPod, which was essentially an extension of “screen rules” that were already in place. The edict was simple: follow the rules–no screen time during the week except for homework and other approved exceptions, obey all email rules–and you keep your iPod privileges. Break the rules, and we revoke them.

That’s clear, right?

First, a primer: for those of you unfamiliar with an iPod Touch, it’s basically an iPhone without the phone capability. It operates on a wifi connection, you can load it up with apps, and so far as I can tell, it can do everything else that an iPhone can do. (Apparently, there are even workarounds that will allow you to use it as a phone, but what my kid doesn’t know won’t hurt him. In any event, that’s definitely on the “forbidden” list.)

Thus, an iPod Touch allows you to text, using your email account as the contact instead of a phone number. This was the first place I discovered that we had entered new tween territory.

Jack was the last among his group of friends to get a Touch, and the texts began almost immediately. At first, they seemed a novelty. But they persisted, and after the first week, I wondered what had happened to our “no screen time during the week” rule. I thought about bringing his weekday texts to an end, but something I couldn’t define held me back. So the texting continued.

As the chirping that heralded the arrival of new texts persisted, I puzzled over my reluctance to enforce my own rules. I examined some of the text exchanges, wondering what these kids could be talking about at the rate of more-texts-than-I-can-count in fifteen minutes. None of them were nefarious. They consisted of classic, fifth-grade boy chit-chat. Some of them didn’t even make any sense. (Seriously. Some of the messages consisted of letters that didn’t form actual words.)

And then one day, after exchanging texts with Jack when he was home alone, I realized why I was so reluctant to cut off the mid-week texts: texting is this generation’s phone call.

Texting is how these kids communicate. When we were kids and we reached a certain age, we picked up the phone. And, to our parents’ consternation, we never put it down.

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“Digital Kids and Their Ambivalent Mom”

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012 in Kids & Technology, Out of the Mouths of My Kids, Parenting on a Daily Basis, The World We Parent In | 4 comments

“Step away from the iPhone.” This is what I say when I’ve had enough. It’s the imperative that slips out when I’m tired of watching the backs of my kids’ heads, tired of trying to engage with them in the real world while they’re fully engaged in artificial, virtual life.

I generally don’t speak this sentence until my kids have already spent what any person over the age of 30 would describe as a reasonable amount of time in front of a screen, and then one of my kids asks, “Mommy, can I play with your iPhone?”

The offender generally poses the question with an arm outstretched, fingers beginning to curl in anticipation. I can almost see my 10-year-old son or my 7-year-old daughter salivate.

“Mommy, can I play with your iPhone?”

“No, you’ve had enough screen time today.”

“Mommy, can I play with your iPhone?”

“No. You don’t need an iPhone to get you through the 10 minutes it takes to drive from Bow to downtown Concord. Step away from the iPhone.”

The questioning feels relentless. I remind myself that I’m the parent. Summer’s influence has reached its peak: Bedtime has disintegrated, pizza has morphed into a major food group and the Olympics made it okay to sit in front of the television for hours at a time. But if I truly believe my children are spending too much time in front of screens, I’ve got to parent up and re-impose the strict limits I was so good about maintaining during the school year.

“Mommy, can I play with your iPhone?”

For the love of God, I can’t take it anymore. Take the damn iPhone. Just let me know if anyone texts me, all right?

Click here to read the rest of my column in today’s Concord Monitor.

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