Good news: my 9-year-old grandson Ben sleeps over most Tuesday nights. His dog Juney sleeps over too. We all sleep together, in one bed, for a hilarious, deeply sleep-impaired night.
More good news: I take boy and dog to his bus stop Wednesday mornings. Since that entails a 25-minute ride, we get plenty of quality talk time.
Bad news: he recently got a “device.” Since then there is no more talk time; he has turned into a screen zombie.
Now, this is not going to be one of those screeds in which the writer inveighs against the evils of screen time. When I was a kid I loved watching Howdy Doody and Captain Video before “graduating” to The Mickey Mouse Club, the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke, and later still to Saturday Night Live and SCTV. From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Doubtless too much screen time is harmful. I heard recently of twin 2-year-olds who each had their own iPad. I mean, really. But despite the hand-wringing, I don’t think anything terrible is going to happen to kids’ brains. They’ll pick their heads up enough to meet for play dates, have sleepovers, go out, get married and produce babies of their own, who will have mid-21st century issues, perhaps an addiction to jet-bikes.
Researchers claim the screen habit is the result of subtle, nefarious psychological rewards embedded in the games themselves. Maybe so. But I think it has as much or more to do with conformity. Kids are like adults: they want to do what their friends are doing. Remember fidget spinners?
So here is the conversation I am having with Ben:
Me: Ben, don’t be a follower. It’s so boring. Be a leader. Be the first kid to give up your device.
Ben: What? I don’t want to be a leader.
Me: I mean it. No more screen time at our house or car.
Ben: But Pops!
Me: Absolutely. It’s a waste of your eyeballs. Step away from the screen, there’s nothing to see there.
Ben: So now what are we going to do?
Me: We can read. There’s a Harry Potter book we can start, and another Roald Dahl I want to try.
Ben: OK, but not in the car.
Me: Right, but we can talk. There’s so much I want to know about you, and I want you to know about me.
Ben: Like what?
Me: Tell you what. We’ll play a game. Call it “Three Questions.” I’ll ask you three and you ask me three. Only one rule: “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. You can make something up, as long as it’s close to the truth.
Ben: Fine. First question. Do we have to do this?
We started last week, and so far, it’s working. Only nine more years till college; we should know each other well by then.