Are your kids spending too much time online?

Glowing computer screen
CC license timsnell
Glowing computer screen
CC license timsnell

It’s 1 a.m. when I look up from my screen. I’d only meant to sit down for a few minutes and catch up on my email. That was two hours ago. I try to trace where I lost track of time – was it the link in an email that led me over to Facebook? The interesting article that led to another interesting article that led me to my Twitter feed or LinkedIn profile and back again?

There is no end to the Internet.

I know my 6:30 a.m. self is going to hate my 1 a.m. self. I have kids to get to school, a dog to walk and a job to do. I know that full well, but it’s so easy to get lost down the rabbit hole. And I know that if I’m having trouble with this, my kids are struggling even more.  They haven’t yet developed the judgment or maturity of adulthood – their brains are still wiring the so-called “executive functions” (impulse control, problem solving, good judgment).

As compelling and engaging online content is for me, I see it as largely separate from my sense of self. But for this generation of kids, “online” is often where they feel most comfortable expressive their personalities. It often feels most like their true selves. It seems ironic to us that this most public of forums is where kids feel less judged, more likely to express themselves freely.  I know that as a busy working mom of three, if I have trouble turning it off, it’s that much harder for my kids. That Internet connection may well feel like their one true link to the world (though it’s up to us to help them do that safely). Many parents come to worry their kids are actually “addicted” to the Internet or their computer screens.

This is just one reason we’ve tried to institute a household rule about removing digital devices from their bedrooms before they go to sleep. I use the word “try” deliberately, because our success rates vary from abject failure to brief periods of compliance. We set up a charging station on the landing outside their bedrooms, and all phones, iPads and laptops are supposed to be set up there each night.

Every single night is a fresh battle. It’s as if this is a brand new rule with no precedent. There’s always a reason or rejoinder. They need an alarm clock? Use the clock radio they got when they were eight. They want to go to sleep listening to music on their earphones? Nope – causes hearing damage. I don’t trust them? Oh that’s my favourite.  See here for my answer to this one.

I have to admit there are weeks I just give up, but every once in a while I’ll check in on someone after they were supposed to be asleep and find them binge watching a TV series on Netflix, texting friends or skimming Tumblr or Instagram. I harden my resolve and the battle is pitched anew, until the next time I let my guard down. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I do believe it’s important. And when was parenting ever going to be easy?

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