As a parent, there’s nothing I like better than a good black and white moral conundrum. In our house we call them Berenstain Bear moments, and just like Mama Bear, there is nothing I like better than a story with a glaringly obvious life lesson, an open/shut case of right vs. wrong all tied up with an ethical bow at the end. I live for them. Of course life, let alone parenting, would be easy peasy if everything was a Berenstain Bear moment. Unfortunately it’s not.
Recently I’ve found myself standing on a (presumed) moral high ground shouting hoarsely into the nether. And whist up there on my soap box on top of my high horse at the highest point of said moral high ground, I realized that I am out of my depth.
It’s not often as a mother that I admit that. I am a hard-core believer in common sense parenting by the gut. Usually I have a pretty good sense of what is acceptable to me as a parent. If it falls on the unacceptable side of the fence, it doesn’t take long for me to scramble up to my pulpit where I will pontificate and preach–to whoever is listening–in my loud, American, children’s theatre trained voice. My voice is one of backyards and big skies. It is not meant, as my husband will tell you, for high ceilinged apartments in a country where silence is a national pastime.
It is no secret how I feel about screens, particularly iPads and video games. I hate them. Every maternal instinct in me wants to hurl every Apple product we own (and we have a fair number) out the window at times. I want to write long scathing letters to the late Steve Jobs. Screw you, Apple Man, for making so many cute, affordable gadgets that I now have to constantly battle with my kids about.
Allow me this rather lengthy piece of vanity, for there are so many factors at play here that the only way I can sort out my feelings is by sitting down and writing about it.
I don’t want to escape technology. Recently our broadband was down for nearly 10 days and it was me (me!) who complained about it the most. I missed my online thesaurus, being able to do my online grocery order, return emails, etc. That said, I have never been a game person. I don’t play Candy Crush or Farmville or Angry Birds I never played Space Invaders or Pac-Man as a kid. This could be down to my personality, (I don’t watch much television either), or it could be my sex. It could be both. I simply don’t get the fascination with video games. I don’t understand the appeal, don’t understand the pull, the draw, the addictiveness of it; and because of that, I am limited in my acceptance of it. I am wiling to admit that is a weakness on my part. I don’t have room in my brain for ‘let me just finish this race’ or ‘one more round’ or ‘I’m almost there….just….just….just.”
The problem is that I don’t have girls who have similar personalities to me. I have boys. I have boys who do like Angry Birds, MineCraft, Injustice, and sixteen others I would be hard pressed to name. I have boys who like games who have access to technology. I have boys who like games with access to technology who are growing up in a generation when ‘social’ is automatically followed by ‘media’, when play dates are two boys sitting next to each other connected on a MineCraft server, where bowling is done on the Wii and when as a fellow mother and friend pointed out, game has changed from a noun to a verb.
Is this what boys do? I guess. I don’t know. Do they? I’m out of my depth, lost my perspective. I feel, in my heart, that my kids should be outside in the sunshine, beating the shit out of one another as opposed to crafting (anything noun turned verb) things on a 10 inch screen. Yet I let them.
I let them because they enjoy it. I let them because it is a cultural connection to their peers, the same way we used to discuss last nights’ episode of Happy Days (Did you see when Fonzi jumped the shark? Yeah, it all went downhill after that….). I let them because we live in an apartment in a foreign city. I let them because in Denmark it is dark at 3 pm in the winter. I let them because when they are plugged into whatever fantasy world they are addicted to at the moment, they are leaving me alone. Yes, I admit it. They are quiet. It is pleasant. So what’s the problem, right?
The problem is, it is at odds with my own feelings about what they should be doing. The problem is, it is too easy to bask in the relative quiet of two gaming boys. The problem is, even with limitations, they are always asking for more. The problem is that I end up resenting having to be the enforcer of arbitrary limits, limits which are constantly tested. The problem is, I resent the fact that they seem unable to be able to entertain themselves for more than ten minutes without asking if they can ‘just look something up’ or watch an instructional video on how to create a mini Lego Ben 10 Way Big or “listen” to music on the iPad.
I say it again, screw you Apple and your minions for making my job as a parent that much harder. No, it’s not fair to blame a company, but it feels good to say it.
My oldest is going to be ten in a few months. He is slowly easing out of the imaginary play scenarios of the last decade (oh for a round of Playmobil Pirate football!) and is in the no man’s land between being a kid who is happy to play and being a teenager who is happy to do nothing. He’s not old enough to go out and do his own thing, but he’s growing out of his toys. He’s bored. Because of our decision to live the life we do—in a foreign city in an apartment–time with friends has to be arranged and managed rather than simply walking out the door and finding someone to play with. We don’t have a back yard for him to kick a ball around in or watch the clouds roll by. We have a beautiful park behind our building, but it’s no fun to be on your own when you’re a kid. So yes, I fall back on screens far more than makes me comfortable. And I struggle, because this seems to be the new normal.
Yet it feels wrong to me.
But what if I am wrong?
This is what happens when you lose perspective. I wish is were clear-cut. I wish it was a Berenstain Bear moment. Instead it is a gray area that I have trouble navigating myself, yet here I am trying to guide my children through it. It is difficult to reconcile yourself to the fact that something you don’t feel comfortable with is something that you have to learn how to live with, regulate, and compromise about.
The technology conundrum. Sooner or later I feel in my bones that there is going to be an iRevolt, led by mothers. Probably mothers of boys. Who love MineCraft. Boys who take over our nouns and make them verbs. Oh, I don’t know. Just as likely that they’ll all end up becoming perfectly normal, contributing members of society who like to game a bit on the weekends.
It is a scenario I will gladly step down off of my high horse for. If only I could be sure.
Thanks to all my FB parents who contributed to this piece by sharing their own limitations and feelings about kids and iPads. And thanks, AG for calling attention to the travesty of turning nouns into verbs ;-).
For more of my techno-rants, you can see: