Want Your Kids to Turn off the Screen? Then Listen

Sep 12

Last night my 12-year-old son asked if he could stay up later than his two younger brothers to watch TV with me and his dad. Since he’d just come home from hockey (later than usual), I said yes. It would be nice to share some personal time with our oldest son. No sooner had I sat on the couch to start my DVR recording of Master Chef, he walks in with his iPod in his hand and earphones on his head.

“Whoa,” I set the remote control down. “I thought we were watching TV together?” I asked. Then repeated it. Louder. He had the volume up too high to hear me the first time.

He guffawed. “What difference does it make? We’re both watching screens, Mom.” Yes, he had a point. I couldn’t argue that, could I? Visions of sitting with my family watching Different Strokes and The A-Team paraded through my mind. Those were some good memories. Sure, we shushed eachother when the commercials ended, but still, we laughed together and shared the same appreciation for one-line quips that only a 1980′s sitcom can deliver (Whatchoo talkin’ bout Mista D?) That counted for something. Didn’t it?

I insisted he turn off his personal screen and watch Master Chef with me, despite my reservations whether this could really be considered quality family time. He groaned his consent and tossed his electronics aside. Then he took me by surprise. He started talking. Like, really talking. I held the remote in my hand, ready to press PLAY. Yet as my son continued to talk I realized what an amazing opportunity I would be squandering if I silenced his chatter with my TV program. You see, 12-year-old boys aren’t a particularly chatty bunch.

He talked about what happened during school that day, sharing information about a new student in his grade who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’d never heard of that before, he explained. And continued to describe what he’d learned about this condition. I kept the show on PAUSE and listened intently to everything he said. I was amazed by his compassion and interest in this new student. And I was eager to let him express his intrigue and concern about her. We had an amazing conversation. I was happy to let my TV show wait.

My husband eventually joined us in the family room and started the TV show while we continued our conversation (he, understandably, fell into the habit of just turning on the screen without thinking).

As our conversation drew to a close, I marvelled at how freely my son chatted with me. (This is not a daily occurrence.) The night , however, could have played out very differently if either of us had tuned into our own screen.

Instead, he talked. Instead, I listened. If that’s a by-product of shared screen time, then I’m going to insist on doing it more often.


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One comment

  1. A great thought process on the importance of not being plugged in too much! Social media seems to have made us less social at times, and cellular phones have succeeded in making us more cellular. Thank you for sharing your story!