People of my generation grew up in front of screens. We were the first kids to have video games and computers, and television had really figured out how to hold the attention of children. A lot of us grew up to be aliterate, suffering from no interest in reading, short attention spans, and no creativity when it comes to dealing with boredom. It had terrible effects on how we did in school, and how we did in making and maintaining friendships.
Using screens is a habit, and one I have a hard time breaking. I have taken many important steps in my life. In 2000 I participated in “TV turnoff week” a protest staged by the guerrilla media foundation, and found that I got so much more done and was so much happier that I basically gave up television for many years.
Once in awhile I will buy a TV series on DVD or watch it on Netflix,and normally I am very good at moderating that, but even now I occasionally find myself binging on TV that way, as if I weremaking up for lost time. TV can be a hard nut to crack.
It’s not like TV is a total loss. It gives you things to talk about with other people; some common ground to start a conversation. It can be inspirational, and there are TV documentaries and educational programs that I believe are very valuable. But it can also suck you in and drain time that offers you no benefits.
Because of this, I have made a decision to minimize your exposure to television as a child. I have told myself that I don;t want you watching TV at all until you are seven or eight, so that you don’t get into that habit until you have learned the skills of entertaining yourself. Many parenting experts seem to think that kids who don’t watch TV before seven tend to be much better at avoiding getting sucked in and hooked on it.
Video games worry me even more. The first video games came out when I was a little boy, and I spent many hours playing Atari and early PC games on Opa’s old TI-45. When fancier machines like the Nintendo Enterntainment System came out I started mounting my hours even more. My parents saw that it was sucking up too much time, and intervened to a degree, making rules that I had to play an hour outdoors for every hour I played video games, but I often found ways around it.
Even today, I love video games. It is the way I keep in touch with many of my friends, like your Uncle Luke, and my best friend who you will probably call “Uncle” Mike. But I have also seen just how much harm they can do and how much obsession they can create in very young minds.
The games of my childhood were not very immersive. They were simple, short, and often slow-paced. They had nothing on the games of today, and I can only imagine how powerful the games of your teen years are going to be like! And that gives them much more power to draw us in.
I have a cousin – about twelve years younger than me – who was allowed to play video games from a very young age. The immersiveness of the games of those years were far ore powerful than the ones of the 1980s and the results were frightening. For many years, he acted like an addict about them – he would sneak time on them, build all of his play around them, even when he couldn’t play them directly; he would talk about them incessantly, and lose interest in anything else put in front of him while he daydreamed of his next Legend of Zelda adventure. It crippled his imagination, and affected his schoolwork.
And so, until your mind is mature and you have developed strong interests outside of screens, they will also have to be restricted.
This will sometimes make me look like a hypocrite. Sometimes it will make you feel like you live in a different world from your friends. Not allowing you to spend too much time in front of screens goes against the stream of parenting as it is done today. But I believe it will grant you a stronger, happier adulthood. And I will do my best as well to teach you leadership, so that when your friends are with you and feeling bored, you will be able to inspire them to play that doesn’t involve screens, too! That has the power to transform you from an outsider to the ultimate insider.
Other forms of time in front of screens, Social Media, surfing the web, blogging, research, creating things for work, writing programs, and video conferencing, are also a part of my life. Those are skills that I want you to have, but even they can be detrimental to you. Because of this I need to be very careful about how habituated you get to computer time and time in front of screens.
I hope that whatever conflicts we have over screens, in the end the time spent away from them will serve you well, and that you will be glad for it in the end.
I love you, son,