Did anyone ever say this about you when you were growing up? Lots of people, both adults and other children, said it about me, and let me tell you, this was never, ever uttered in anything like a supportive or admiring tone. The subtext always seemed to be “because she has no friends. What a loser.”
Well, ha-ha, boring other people, I led a richer inner life than you, a truth which you failed to appreciate at the time and probably still wouldn’t understand.
Now that I’m an adult and a parent myself, I simply can’t fathom any adult with any maturity or perspective or compassion commenting in this way and in this tone about a child, let alone within her hearing. One of my favorite parenting moments ever was when my friend Kay hosted a party, and Kay saw that my highly-introverted daughter needed a little bit of quiet space, and she said, “Let’s find her a book to read.”
No harsh judgment. No hint of any sentiment that my daughter had to go play with the other kids even though she’d been doing that for the past two hours and badly needed a break. My friend Kay thought it was perfectly fine that a child would spend some time at a large party, sitting in a quiet corner with a book.
I love the place and time where I live, where it’s okay for a quiet child who has done her social duty for a while to read during a party. Love it.
I’m bringing this up because the topic of screen time seems to have become quite a discussion among parents, both online and in the real world. How much time should children spend on the internet? How much time online is too much? What kind of limits should there be? Should the limits depend on how old the child is?
I don’t limit my children’s time on the internet. When they were in elementary school, we had the five o’clock rule, which was that they had to wait until five o’clock for any screen time, whether that was television or computer time or whatever.
Now that my daughter is thirteen and my son is eleven, they can do whatever they want. Every time I consider setting limits, or forcing them to spend their free time doing something else, I hear those voices in my head, those voices who let me know in no uncertain terms that my favorite activity wasn’t good enough for the people around me, and that my choices during my free time were not acceptable choices.
Do I wish my children would read more? Of course I do. But my own mother wished I would play outside more. She wished I would join in with other children more. She made me join the Girl Scouts and the high school choir, when I would rather have been home with a book.
It won’t surprise you to hear that we have books all over the place at our house. They are waiting to be discovered. But I want my children to discover them on their own, not because I’m making them do it.
I guess I’m not willing to subscribe to the idea that spending a lot of time on the internet is harmful for young teens, just because I didn’t do that myself and I don’t want to do it now. My son is learning something through video gaming, and my daughter is learning something by being a fangirl and following video bloggers. They aren’t the same things I learned, but the world is a different place now. They spend a lot of time in school or doing homework, and at their age I want their free time to be their own.
And I also know that sometimes I reached my saturation point and I put down my book and went and climbed a tree or something. I’ve seen both my children walk away from screen time when they have had enough. They are learning to self-regulate, and that’s a good thing.
Pursuing a passion, whether it’s books or fangirl culture or Minecraft. That’s what it’s all about.
Love you & leave you,