I often hear parents of my generation talk about how things were when we were kids. How we had the run of our neighbourhoods from dawn 'til dusk, climbed trees to dizzying heights, ate Cheez Whiz and Jif straight from the jar and got in trouble at school for passing intricately folded paper notes to one another. Our childhood was so radically different from the helicopter parenting; organic, nut-free spreads and technology that seem to define parenthood today.
Screen time gets a lot of attention in parenting headlines nowadays. There's much debate on how much time kids should spend sitting in front of a screen. I admit to ranting a lot about technology and the value of screen-free time for kids, because I think back on my own low-tech childhood and compare it to my kids' screen obsessions.
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That's why Allison Slater Tate's essay in the Washington Post last week really hit home for me. She wrote openly about her dilemma as a GenX parent from a low-tech childhood, raising her children in an age of what she called "iEverything."
"I wrestle with demons far less First World Problematic than that of technology with my children, but I must admit that in its category, technology wins the prize for being the trickiest parenting challenge I have faced, right up there with infant sleep and potty training in terms of the feelings of desperation and hopelessness it can inspire at times. I am very much standing in the middle between my parents and my children when it comes to technology, one foot dipped in the waters of Instagram and Twitter and the other still stuck in the luddite mud of 'In my day, we passed paper notes in class, sent real letters to penpals, and talked to each other’s faces!'
When it comes to parenting, I find this middle place extremely uncomfortable, because I know what childhood and adolescence were like before the Internet, and my parenting models all came from that era."
Because my kids are still so young (and, realistically, because we're too broke), they don't have access to the electronic gadgets that their friends do. There's one broken laptop, a couple of smartphones and a Wii in our house. That's it. But even with the tech we do have, it's a constant battle of the wills in my house, as my kids ruthlessly negotiate for extra minutes of screen time every day. Their best argument: "You can have a longer shower, Mom!" Those kids of mine, they're smart.
But when I think back to the technology that was around when I was a kid, I realize that it's not exactly true that we GenXers all grew up with just CBC, constantly adjusting the rabbit ears to sharpen up snowy TV screens. It's a nice memory, but we all had computers in our classrooms—I was using a computer for projects when I was my son's age. I remember hours spent playing Frogger and Missile Command, then Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. Or hiding out in my brother's room in the wee hours of the night, our Game Boys tethered to play Tetris together.
The screens were always there—we were just told "no" more often than I think we're comfortable telling this generation of kids. Because, in all honesty, we know that screens buy us parents a few precious minutes of silence.
Maybe the problem is that in our desperation to carve out a few extra minutes of peace, we forget that childhood is supposed to be noisy. Kids are supposed to be impatient, and giving them screens instead of the opportunity to be bored and frustrated may not be the best way to go. For every argument out there that kids need to learn how to use the latest gadget, it can be countered with the fact that our kids need to learn how to manage the feelings that come with not getting what they want.
Like I said, the screens have been—and will always be—there. But to bring back the low-tech childhoods we once had we just need to start saying no more often.
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