“But I’m Writing!”: Screen Time, Kids, and Where I Went Wrong

Establishing good habits with "devices" early! My daughter, age 18 months.

Establishing good habits with “devices” early! My daughter, age 18 months.

Last week I told my kids their one hour of “screen” time after school could be split any way they wanted: iPad, X-Box, or Netflix. Even (gasp) the computer itself. A generous offer! For one shining moment, as my son’s face glowed with delight, I felt like a good parent.

Then my daughter scowled, and said, “How come you get as much screen time as you want?”

“It’s not screen time,” I said, sitting at my laptop. “It’s writing.”

“It’s still screen time,” she said.

She’s six. In her mind, the argument ended there and she won it.

But how do I explain to my kids the difference between using the computer to write a children’s book and playing “My Singing Monsters”*?

“Parents working from home are … spending more time on smartphones and tablets. In a new book, clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair argues that widespread use of electronic devices exposes kids to unhealthy values and puts children at risk at every developmental stage. She says technology has negative effects on empathy, attention and family relationships.” – The Diane Rehm Show, August 14th, 2013

According to Catherine Steiner-Adair, to kids, it really is the same. Me checking my email might as well be them checking to see if their monsters have hatched another truffula**.

Where I went wrong is that I’ve set double standards.

  • It’s okay for me to check my email on my iPhone, seeing if more rejections (or, with any luck, acceptances) have trickled in from my many submissions still pending an answer, but I tell them, “Too much device time is bad for you,” and set strict limits on their use.
  • I demand they disconnect immediately when I say it’s time for dinner, even though I would strenuously object to my husband, for example, demanding the same behavior from me (he would happily attest to this).
  • I sit in front of a computer for hours at a time, whenever I want. They are never allowed such freedom, although Catherine Steiner-Adair argues that kids get more out of some complex video games only after hours of “immersion”.

I write because I love it, because it fills a professional void in my life, and because I want to prove to my children that even through pain and disability I am here and I am me and I can thrive.

But the reality is, thanks to the immediacy of laptops, iPads, and iPhones, writing has turned into a work-at-home job that takes time away from my family.

Someday I want my kids to be proud of what I wrote. But the example I set? I have to be careful they’re seeing more than just a mom who says, “Not now, honey, I’ve gotta check my email/finish this chapter/spend some time in my office/for Pete’s sake, can’t you guys leave me alone for five uninterrupted minutes???”

Signing off. Because I love writing, but I love my kids more.

(*whatever you do, do not introduce your children to this aptly-named, addictive, ear worm of a game)

(**not the right word)


5 thoughts on ““But I’m Writing!”: Screen Time, Kids, and Where I Went Wrong

    • I…I…I think I really like that idea! I haven’t used a typewriter since the 1980’s. Life without the backspace key might be liberating in many ways.

      • I actually have an electric typewriter I use sometimes. It’s a lot of fun, I don’t worry as much about making/fixing mistakes on a first draft, and the sound a typewriter makes is so much more satisfying than these tiny keyboard keys. 🙂

  1. As a father who, decades ago, sometimes spent more time working than I should have, I applaud your efforts.

    Something tells me that your little ones are going to have wonderfully vivid memories of growing up with a mom who preferred spending time with them to time with her writing muse.

    • Thanks! I understand, because I spent the first years of their childhoods barely being there at all. It’s hard. Even when I’m in the mad crush of novel writing, they have no idea how good they have it. (But that’s the whole point–if all they remember about me being home is me sitting in front of my laptop, that wouldn’t be such a good trade-off.)

      Tonight, we went out to dinner, played frisbee, and had family board game night. No devices. I remembered why I really do love them more!

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