It all started so innocently a little less than a year ago. My son wanted answers about something or other, so we got on the Internet. Instinctively he seemed to know how to navigate his way around a search engine and before we knew it, he had taken ownership of my old laptop. What kind of mother would I be to deny him the educational opportunities the Internet can provide?
It’s not the computer time itself that’s the problem. Because he doesn’t watch TV or play video games, we limit his time to an hour a day and monitor what he’s doing on it. Except for a month-long Pac Man obsession (the nostalgia of it allowed me to tolerate it far longer than I should have), he more often than not uses it for semi-educational purposes. After a trip to Britain, he watched YouTube videos about the history of the London underground. Exploring the planet on Google Earth has become his favorite pastime, and for the past month or so he’s been “building” 3-D airplanes.
There are other positive factors, as well. He loves the computer so much, we can use it as leverage. Ok, call it bribing if you like, but it works in a pinch. And when mom needs some extra writing time or dad’s been out of town going on two weeks, a boy quietly fixated on his computer is a joy to behold.
So why do I always feel guilty when I let him use it? Part of the problem is that I hate the fact that he doesn’t want to go a day without it. He gets off nicely when I tell him his time is up, but he never shuts it down on his own accord. It just seems that anything that addictive can’t be good.
On nice days, he still prefers playing outside…provided he’ll still have the time for his computer. He enjoys going out on weekends - to Old Sturbridge Village or the bookstore or a play date with a pal, but he almost always asks if he’ll have time for his computer when we get home. It’s become a non-cute version of a pet that we need to get home to tend to, and although it doesn’t leave hair on the couch, it can be a nuisance. I’ve tried talking to our son, asking him why he loves it so much, but I can’t expect much more than, “Just because,” from an eight-year-old.
Just last night, between spending all day at camp, playing outside with the neighbors, dinner, bath, reading, and yes, computer time, bedtime came up in a jiffy. He came into my room to complain that he hadn’t had enough time to play with his toys and I responded that sometimes there’s not enough time for everything. I followed this up by telling him that being on the computer is a waste of his time. Of course I said this with my own computer sitting opened on my lap. I could tell you I was working, but truth be told I was catching up on Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columns.
So, yeah, I get where my kid’s coming from. The computer is a nice way to veg out. But sometimes we parents can’t just talk the talk, we also have to walk the walk. In this case, that might mean walking away from my own computer more often. Drats.