My No-Screen Rules Are Strict (But That Doesn’t Make Me a Tiger Mom)

Although my son may beg to differ, I am not a tiger mom. Our nearly 7-year-old boy has lots of downtime for playdates and daydreaming. He loves tons of sports, jams on guitars and keyboards, and has played hundreds of games of Uno.
It’s not a free for all though. Rules include: Bedtime at 8 (which may get stretched until 8:30); no wearing shorts after Halloween (unless temperatures soar to 70, which they did); and do homework and chores (which include making his bed and putting away his toys). And like many other kids, he has to practice the piano, a measly 15 minutes five or six days a week. He can’t believe that other kids have to practice piano — or anything — every day. “Why do I have to?” he whines. “Practice makes progress,” we say, echoing my brother. 
But when it comes to screens, that’s where the real tiger mom perception comes in. As far as I can figure, the holy grail of technology to a second grader includes the TV, the iPad, and the Wii. We limit them all to a couple of hours on weekends only.
Let’s start with TV. When we first adopted A, he didn’t speak any English. Some people suggested he should watch lots of TV to help him learn, but our pediatrician told us that TV won’t help him learn English — he needs to interact. So instead, my husband and I talked nonstop — a continuous  narrative about what we were doing —  and now his English is awesome. And he still doesn’t watch much TV, except a little on weekends or on days off. One working mom pal guiltily told me she lets her first-grade girl watch TV while she gets her toddler son dressed in the morning. Whatever gets you through the day, I said, it’s just not for us.

When he does watch the TV, some of the shows are geared to a younger audience (i.e. “Caillou”, “Thomas the Train”, “Daniel Tiger”, and “Sesame Street”), but he’s catching up on TV shows he missed as a younger boy, before he was in America. It helps him to have some of the same cultural touchstones as other kids. As for films, he waits anxiously for “movie time” on weekends at 4 p.m.; he’s often only viewing flicks on a pathetically small Kindle Fire, or my old iBook, but he loves it! We close the curtains, have a movie snack, and turn out the lights.

And seriously: Most of his friends really do have iPads. In second grade!  He doesn’t get to use our game-less iPads and iPhones, which totally “isn’t fair.” He does get to use an iPod to take all sorts of great photos — and to e-mail dad such photos which I must admit is pretty fantastic. And if we are having the rare dinner at a house with no toys, and the host offers, he can use an iPad. But there isn’t one in his near future. He hates it when I tell I didn’t get my first iPad until I was 49 years old. (That’s the modern version of “I had to walk three miles to school every day.”)

One child we know is tethered to the laptop on which he plays Minecraft constantly. He’s way above the level of a 7-year-old and could teach an 11-year-old a trick or two (and does!), says his dad. He’s somewhat shy, but he shines on Minecraft. A would like Minecraft and eventually we will succumb, but not just yet. It’s not that I’m worried he will become a total junkie, I’d rather just have him find an alternate world in books and his imagination. Yesterday he brought out play-doh for lack of anything else to do.

But the Wii rules the roost. It’s the golden ring. The ultimate goal. And he can only use it on weekends (“Wii-kends!”). He hates this — even more when he sees other kids using it whenever. He doesn’t like afterschool programs mostly because (I’m guessing) he thinks he could have a Wii playdate instead. Although I’d prefer it if he were kicking a soccer ball, when he has a playdate, the Wii is fine. Because he gets to figure out Star Wars with the help of a friend or play Super Mario Cart with a pal, instead of his inept mom.

I know teenagers who grew up with free reign of all computers and video games and they all turned out differently. One is still a total tech/video games junkie (he built a PC from a kit), but he has a zillion other interests (sneakers, trendy food, biking). Another teen gave his cell phone back to his mom; he thought texting was a waste of time!  One dad used to monitor his kids use of screens more closely but now that they are in the double digits, it’s morphed into a rule about only one screen at a time (what a modern concept).

It’s complicated for us also. It would be much easier for us parents to let A just play the Wii or settle into Minecraft for hours instead of our playing entertainment director. When A first arrived, one dad told me they take their kids with them out to dinner, hand over the iPhones, and call it date night. When he first told me that, I was amused but also slightly aghast. But the reality is, when there are too many adults and not any kids or crayons around, A will play with Star Walk, Google Maps, or Weather Channel apps.

So if A thinks I’m strict, that’s is fine by me. When he doesn’t have technology flowing 24/7 he gets creative. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be creative on the computer; but for now, I’d rather have him focus on jumping in a pile of leaves, digging into his Lincoln Logs,  finding a book that he hasn’t read, or building a train out of old boxes. Or we can settle into a nice long game of UNO.

Photo: Getty