Confessions of Failed Parenting: My Kids Worship At The Altar of Screen Almighty

Anyone else feel like their kids have sold their souls to the digital devil? (It’s okay. You can tell me.)

Screens are ruining my life.

Specifically, they’re wreaking havoc on my family life. Despite my very best intentions, my kids are addicted to screens, and I can’t seem to do a damn thing about it.

That eye-roll you just gave, about me not being able to do anything about it? I used to do that, too. When my boys were younger, we’d hang out with older kids (family friends, cousins) who’d spend entire meals, evenings or outings staring blindly into their screens. Back then, I rolled my eyes aplenty, casting silent aspersions on my dear friends and relatives who clearly could not parent effectively enough to keep their kids off the damn screen, even for the duration of dinner.

Well, the joke’s on me.

What goes around comes around.

Karma’s a bitch.

Welcome to the club.

And so on.

While we do keep meal times screen-free, in all other areas we are failing. Utterly. The minute my lads finish whatever they “have” to do — homework, unloading the dishwasher, feeding the critters — they default to Screen Time.

What’s that? You noticed I capitalize “Screen Time?” Indeed I do. In fact, I’m officially declaring “Screen Time” a proper noun, just like Christmas and the Olympics — two things, by the way, that kids these days probably find a whole lot less interesting than Screen Time. My creative, imaginative boys with above-average coordination skills are reluctant to find a single thing to do that does not involve a screen. As a result, we fight daily about Screen Time: how much is allowed, how much has already been used and why it’s forbidden right now just because I said so.

Technology is terrorizing our home and causing fights, creating tension and driving us nuts. But here’s the craziest thing: I’m not battling some invisible poltergeist. I know what our i-invaders look like (flat, rectangular, various sizes), where they reside (hello, Wi-Fi) and what they need to thrive (charger, outlet, thumbs).

So why can’t I exorcise these demon devices? What is my problem? Our problem? My husband and I are smart enough to earn advanced degrees but not smart enough to take control of a few sleek, shiny, inanimate (sorry, Siri) objects with an easy-to-find on/off button.

So I really, really, really hope you’re smarter than we are.

In fact, I’m sharing my Confessions of Failed Parenting so you’ll tell me how you stop your kids from worshipping fanatically at the altar of Screen Almighty. To be clear, I understand the irresistible pull of our ubiquitous devices. I know why the very word “screen” has morphed from an innocent noun into a very active, all-consuming verb, let alone a proper noun worthy of reverence and unwavering devotion. Screening keeps us juiced, jacked and primed for the next hit of dopamine, that little burst of positive feedback (Ping! Buzz! Ding! Chime!) that be-bops around the pleasure center in our frontal lobe. For our digitally native kids, reading a book or taking a hike, let alone engaging in any form of Forced Family Fun, is downright D-U-L-L.

Which I guess explains why, despite setting all manner of rules and restrictions, I find my kids Constantly. On. The. Screen. Of course, there’s always a compelling reason: Oh, I just need to check … But I’m only going to … It’s just for a few … I really have to because … Saying no, keeping track, endlessly trying to monitor and manage Screen Time leaves me deeply frustrated and downright exhausted. I’m starting to wonder if my boys can sense my aching weariness. Like animals recognizing the scent of human fear, perhaps my kids can sense my growing despair. Maybe they can already smell victory. Team Screen: One. Team Willow: Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Sigh.

Clearly, I am failing to save my kids from i-possession. Are you having better luck? If you are, please share your Screen Time secrets. After all, in the many hours I’m not enjoying nature walks, board games and basket weaving with my screen-obsessed boys, I’ve got plenty of time to read — and weep.


Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a long-time professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.

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