Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

I’ve Turned My Kids Into Addicts.

by Kristy Campbell


I’m having one of those beat-yourself-up mom moments. No, not the “oh, don’t be so hard on yourself” kind but a real, honest “I really screwed up on this” moment, and I’m not too proud to admit to my mistake.


My son stormed out of the office tonight and threw a monster fit because I kicked him off the computer for the evening. As I heard him walking to his room muttering under his breath about how unfair life is and how unfair it is that his brother got to play longer, I had the harsh realization that this is my fault. After all, I’m the one that introduced him to this drug in the first place.


Screens are a powerful drug for boys. Had I known this when I started using, I would have thought twice about it since I didn’t realize the path I was setting up as I propped the kids in front of a Baby Einstein video (ok, maybe 2) in order to take a shower. Later on, I completely underestimated the power of the Leapster as I wholeheartedly bought into its educational content. When I upped the dose from GameBoys to Nintendo DS systems, it was the beginning of the end. I bought the DS systems for what I thought was a valid reason: to get us to Hawaii without incident. I should have known there was a problem the first morning, when the boys asked to finish one more level instead of jumping up to go boogie boarding. We were done. We were addicts.


I take full ownership because I like the freedom that a hand-held gaming system or episode of SpongeBob brings to me. I can get dinner started, answer a couple of emails, pay bills, or even enjoy a moment of peace and quiet as the kids are drawn into a world of their own. But when I think of the hours that I’ve pushed these screens, I cringe.


My moment of truth came last week in the pediatrician’s office where a copy of a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics said screen time – computer, television, hand-held games, cell phones - should be limited to one hour a day for children. This includes i-pods, iTouch, iAnything. I had to re-read the article to make sure they didn’t mean one hour at a time.


So I did what most moms do and when I got home: I went straight to Google for strategies to detox my kids. Maybe it’s a good thing that - like Grandparent’s Day - I missed the "Turn Off Your TV week" holiday as well. I continued to search but most of the tips were intuitive and not that helpful. Things like:


1. Turn off the television (Wow, insightful.)


2. Set good examples (I live on my laptop, Blackberry, iPhone, so I’m no help here.)


3. Limit screen time (Hmm, might be able to do this.)


4. Talk to your kids about the importance of not being on a screen (No comment.)



just found this site and I'll be actively reading it. would like to comment on this post. I have two teens (15yr girl and 19yr boy. My son was addicted to both TV and gameboy when he was young. The internet wasn't so big then and we didn't have a video game player till later. now as a college student he has lost interest in video games and much more into fitness. he rarely goes on facebook. He still has issues but computers and video games are not the problem. My 15 yr old girl LIVES on Facebook. These high school kids crave any sort of internet connection. They also obsessively (??) read the FML site (don't want to translate) and other sites where kids post their personal issues in a non-threatening way. She rarely watches TV which I think is not unusual. She'll occasionally watch a movie or reality show but only once or twice a week. I could limit the Facebook but it would only serve to reinforce her need to see it. I don't know how this site has created such a hold on teens but it is way out of hand. I am very frustrated. I know, I know, I'm the mom and so forth and I could be very altruistic here about controlling her time but we're talking about a sophisticated teenager which is so far beyond my little girl of just a few years ago. They are so far beyond where we were. it is a very slippery slope.


I don't have teens - my oldest is in kindergarten but loooves his electronic entertainmt and we've had to deal with this already. An alternative to hrs-per-day is setting designated times when electronics are off-limits. during the summer saying no computer/tv/ds between 10am and 4pm helped, because it made us all find other things to do. checking e-mail/facebook/websites all day long isn't efficient, easier to have designated 30 minutes after lunch, or after the dishes are done and the kids are in bed. that said, we slip in and out of responsible mode ourselves. yet another way it is hard to teach restraint by example...


This is a hard one.....I don't think it's about a hard and fast rule that limits the amount of time per day. My girls will go days without even thinking about turning on the tv. Then there are nights, like tonight, where as a family we have enjoyed watching 2 movies in a row. Like anything, I think it's all about moderation.


When my son was about 9, I read an article that kids were active less than an hour a day. My son and his friends looked at me confused. They had spent the day climbing trees, biking, skating, playing ball and had just slowed down to eat a snack. . What do they do the rest of the day they wondered. I've never tracked how much screen time my kids have each day. My kids are now 15 & 18. I feel that if you teach them an active lifestyle, they'll learn to balance it out. (my son plans to major in computers, but still plays 3 sports as well.)


This couldn't have come at a better time. My son is only 2, but my husband and I just decided to throw out the baby game system. Our son prefers Legos, matchbox cars and empty boxes...I want to keep it that way. I struggle with the example part. My husband and I are both in IT fields and are constantly connected to a laptop or a blackberry. Kristy, thank you for your honesty, I appreciate having a crystal ball for what the teenage years may have in store!

Kristy Campbell

Thanks for the comment, MarcoMom!
I'm also amazed that if left to her own devices, my 9 yr old daughter will go from JONAS to iCarly to Hannah to Wizards for hours on end. I've set a one hour limit during the school week for TV for her and a 2 hour limit for weekends and I'm trying to manage my "fun" time on my laptop as well but boy does the time fly. Curious how much tv/computer time other moms think is realistic, studies and research aside.


I used to be insufferably preachy about how we were going to limit TV and computer time. She's nine now and, if I'm not actively throwing a fit, she'll watch Disney and Nick tween shows for hours at a time. Her father and I are terrible examples with our laptop addictions. But it's time to change it all.


I have been noodling the idea of cutting down screen time with my 2 teens. This reinforces my instinct-setting some limits will be good for all of us.