Here we are, on the cusp of summer, with the promise of all its splashy afternoons and languid evenings, with the fragrances of grilling wafting on the breeze.
And the sounds of summer: the whack of screen doors, the growl of lawnmowers, the jingle of the ice cream man, and — wait, what’s that? what’s that angry sound? — oh yes, the sound of parents telling their kids for the umpteenth time to get off the computer, and away from the screen right now, I mean it, when I was your age we didn’t have computers and we used to play outside for hours and we didn’t come home until it was dark!
Alas, that too has become a sound of the season.
“This summer, our family is taking a vacation from screens,” a father of my acquaintance declared recently.
He was magnificently resolute. The neighbors to whom he made his declaration nodded thoughtfully. They seemed impressed; it was only by searching the very edges of their expressions that you could perceive the tiniest bit of suppressed mirth. Great idea, you could see them thinking; good luck with that.
“No videos, no TV, no computer games, nothing,” he added. “Nothing that you have to plug in, that is.”
“I wish you success,” said a woman, whose children were older than his. At one point, she explained, she had banned all TV and movies during the school year. Her children were too young for laptops at the time (remember when people thought children could be too young for screens?), so computers weren’t part of the equation.
For fear that her children would be completely out of the pop culture loop of their peers, she agreed to periodic blowouts, rainy Sundays when they could gaze at screens to their hearts’ content. She thought they would get bored after watching, say, two movies in a row. It turned out they had an inexhaustible appetite for mass media.
“I called the last blowout off after hour 10,” she said, “And changed my total ban on screens to a severe limit on screen time. We started with one hour per weekend.”
“How did that work out?”
“My son told me that the great thing about my media rules is that I eventually forget to enforce them.”
“Ouch,” someone laughed.
“I know. It’s true, though.
“We didn’t have TV for years,” put in another woman. “And frankly, I loved it.
My children didn’t seem to mind, and they spent all their time reading and playing imaginary games.”
The resolute father raised his hand in triumph, as if to say: “This is what I’m talking about!”
“But once we got a TV, we were doomed,” she went on. “They’d come down when my husband was watching golf, or whatever, and they started asking to watch Saturday — morning cartoons — ”
All the neighbors nodded; they’d all grown up watching Saturday — morning cartoons. Harmless! Reasonable! It never hurt them.
“ — and that was it. Honestly, the only way to keep media out of your kids’ lives is not to have it around the house in the first place.”
The father pursed his lips. He wanted a screen-free summer. He had not perhaps confronted the fact that this would mean no email, no pre-election coverage, no “Saturday Night Live.”
“Well,” he said at last. “We’re going to try.”
The neighbors smiled encouragingly. They really did wish him luck.
Meghan Cox Gurdon’s column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.