Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Maybe we do have a problem.
(I borrowed this photo from this blog, alas, it is not my own work)

Yesterday I noticed a thoughtful post on Facebook by my friend Amy B. who is looking for software that would limit the time her children spend on the computer. Now that's a great idea, I thought, having failed miserably at prying my teenaged son away from his virtual life so I went to the website someone suggested and checked out some software. It sounded great and even gave this suggestion for how it might limit the time: "For example you might want to set up a schedule like this --Monday–Friday 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, with 15 minutes allowed for their favorite game, 15 minutes to chat and 90 minutes for homework."

After a half hour or so when I could stop laughing doubled over I went downstairs to the computer to find my son to read that line to him. We weren't sure which was funnier--the notion that he could limit his game time to 15 minutes or the pie-in-the-sky dream that he would ever spend 90 minutes on his homework (with or without the computer). He was so amused he even lifted his hands off the keyboard and made eye contact with me. "Fifteen minutes on my game? What the fuh?" and then we started laughing again.

I am reminded of the time I bought new carpeting for the family room when the kids were 5, 4, and 1. "Now," the salesman cautioned me, "You know you should vacuum once per week for every person in the household." I set the baby down, separated the two toddlers, wiped vomit off my shoulder, handed the baby a cracker, and then said to the 5-year-old. "Quick, you do the math, how many times a week would I be vacuuming?" He's a smart kid (or was before all the computer time) so he answered quickly, "Five times, Mommy."

I wasn't trying to be rude when I laughed at the carpet salesman. He looked slightly offended when we all roared at the notion of mommy vacuuming five times a week. Even the one-year-old chortled as she ground her cracker into the floor-room sample of our future carpet.

So allow me to laugh when I read the suggested computer limits for my son. Because really, if there is one thing I've failed at as a parent, (no wait there are many, many things I've failed at including getting my kids to eat fruits and vegetables as anything more than a condiment, and having them make their beds ever, and well, now I'm starting to depress myself) it is in the area of limiting screen time.

Make no mistake, I tried and I tried. And then I failed. But when I was still trying and we used to do that "TV Turn-off" week I was one of the few moms that actually included ALL screens. We went to the library. We played games, we rode bikes to the park all that week. Fat lot of good that did.

And I did move the computer into the kitchen as the experts suggest. That's helpful. I now can see the back of my kid's head at all times and view the ridiculous medieval war graphics on the game he's playing. I suppose this is a little like Mrs. Dahmer saying, "Well it's not that bad; I saw Jeffrey stacking up bodies in the back yard. What kind of mother do you think I am?"

When you learn about dog-training you learn that it is almost impossible to get a dog to stop a bad behavior unless you distract him with the job of a good behavior. Which is why you will see me, from time to time, tell my computer-addicted kid to come empty the dishwasher or take the trash out or help his sister with her math. He always does this cheerfully and willingly--most likely because he is aware that it is the price he pays for being on the computer for hours on end--and he would be right.

So for now that's where we are on this issue. I think I will pass on the monitoring software because 1) I would actually have to have him install it and 2) I would then set it on such ridiculous levels "No games after midnight or before 9 am" that it might automatically dial a family services line and report me.

As for Amy, I wish you nothing but the best and if you find some software that trains me to be a better parent too, just send me the link.


  1. Hah! I inspired a blog post! In seeking software to control my two kids' screen time, I also found the website's example of use absurd. And I get and enjoy the humor above, but honestly, for me this software is more a matter of keeping the kids from driving ME nuts or killing each other. That is, I can make sure that after an hour of Runescape wheelin' and dealin' and massacrin', the 11-yr-old is forced to take a 15 minute break, which lets his little brother get on to surfboard with Penguins or whatever for an hour. I too have given up on keeping screen time anywhere near the low limits advised by experts--I'm just trying to stay out of the internecine wars between my kids. I want to add that we have two computers and I'm controling the bickering over the rights to the better one (the faster machine running Vista, which doesn't run the good old software I had). Otherwise, the 9-yr-old will call me at the store to say "Ben said he'd get off at 6:17 and it's now 6:19 and he called me an idiot when I told him to get off." I will still hear the squabbling on other issues, but if it helps with this one area (a big area for us), I'm grateful. Until the day when we can afford 4 identically powerful computers (or if the cat also wants one, make it 5) this is helping me out. As for software to make me a better parent--I've always fantasized about a pill for that.

  2. Mac's have this feature already built in and its user friendly. You're right it will probably take one of your kids to set it up...thus they will know how to turn it off... as well adjusted as your kids are... its seems that from my outsider prospective... your parenting style must be doing something right!

  3. Bravo, Judy! Another coup for real-life moms everywhere. The 15-minute increment game suggestion is especially bad, because it just isn't fair to interrupt god-given screen time in the middle of god-only-knows what is happening in the game.
    For what it's worth, I went through this with Harley as a teenager. He challenged the assumption that all that "screen time" was detrimental. I went to Borders and spent a few hours in the "Adolescent Psychology" books. I found exactly one paragraph on teenagers spending seemingly obsessive amounts of time on a single activity. The book said it was normal and acceptable. I dropped the subject, and, as I'm fond of saying, my kids turned out to be perfect anyway.
    Anonymous Obnoxious Mom in Holly

  4. p.s. from Anonymous Mom:
    Brilliant, hilariously staged photo. (At least I hope it was staged!)

  5. Amy, I know exactly what you mean about the "he was supposed to be off the computer at 6:15 and now it's 6:17 thing!" Yikes I don't know how normal kids can be so petty sometimes. And to Mary, the photo is hilarious but I swiped it from another site which I have now credited. Very glad to hear Harley went through the same thing and of coures turned out great. There is hope for us all.

  6. I guess that some fifty, sixty years ago (there's been a ten year time lag between the US and Europe with technical gizmo's up until the nineties) parents would try to get their children away from the radio or the record player.

    Our parents would try to get us away from television.
    We grew tired of it at a later age by ourselves.

    I think it will turn out the same for this generation and being online (which is the essence I think, not the computer itself), although I can see how as a parent you are concerned about the health of your children, and quite rightly so.

  7. Laurent's right. In our generation it was the TV that our parents were convinced was going to rot our brains, now it's the internet. It's always something. We just bought a laptop and Kevin was the one who installed all the software and set up the whole thing. Does any parenting expert really think I'm going to be able to set up parental controls on the computer that my son can't find a way around? I haven't even touched it yet. The only reason the new laptop didn't come on vacation with us last week was because we convinced Kevin there were only two options --hike into and out of the Grand Canyon carry the computer or leave it in the car to melt in the 100 temperatures. (It stayed in Glenview.) My hope is that as long as they think we are keeping a watchful eye on their computer use, they might behave somewhat. Great blog as usual Judy. Ann C.

  8. "Make no mistake, I tried and I tried. And then I failed."

    In my opinion this is one of Bush's most memorable speech quotes. When he uttered those words, back then, they sounded so damn realistic!

    As for kids who spend lots of time online: their habits cannot possibly be worse than mine, so who am I to comment on it...

    PS I am not anonymous. I just couldn't fill out my name properly. Which is FrankiePebbles, from the Netherlands.

  9. Hey Frankie, you're here as well??

  10. @ Laurent

    Your unasked for advice is being followed. I mean the advice you've been giving us several times now: to read Judy's weblog because she's entertaining and such.

  11. FrankiePebbles, happy to have you along! Wish I knew Dutch so I could read your blog too. Judy

  12. So far so good at our house but ONLY because we have a 14 inch TV and a crappy computer. Other wise the battles would be raging.