Editor's Letter: The Parent Trap

Back in December, we documented the many perils faced by those of us raising young children in this Age of Overparenting. Moms and dads spend a lot of time these days — I know I do — thinking about how to make sure our kids grow up feeling good about themselves, knowing they’re loved, confident they can achieve whatever they want. But in the process, are we turning out a generation of wimpy, self-entitled little bastards? Maybe we are.

That article got me thinking about a lot of the parenting decisions my wife and I make. It’s an anxiety-ridden business, raising a child, because most of the time you have no idea whether you’re doing the right thing. Let’s say your kid falls down, and, rather than rush to the rescue, you stand there waiting for her to get up. Are you helping her develop the kind of self-reliance she’ll need to succeed in a cruel world, or are you creating doubts about your love that will doom her to failure?

Who knows? You do the reading, you talk to other parents, you make your choices.

Until very recently, it had never occurred to me that any of those choices my wife and I were making were all that extreme (though I imagine our parents would get quite a kick out of hearing that). But then, at a magazine staff meeting, I brought up this month’s profile of Susan Linn, who runs the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the local nonprofit that’s concerned with the effects of media on children. The CCFC recommends that kids younger than two have exactly zero “screen time,” I explained, which means no TV, computers, tablets, or smartphones.

Now this happens to be an important issue to me. There’s credible research out there that screen time can affect the development of a child’s brain. So before our daughter was even born, my wife and I had decided that there would be no television or computer time for her. And for the first two years of her life, there wasn’t. (She did say the word “Dora” once, which got us suspicious about what was going on at daycare, but I guess you can’t control everything.) If she was awake, the TV was off, no exceptions. Her grandparents seemed to find the whole thing amusing, but it never struck me as particularly fringe or radical.

Until that staff meeting, when I started talking about Linn’s belief that young kids should have no screen time. “Yeah,” somebody said, “but shouldn’t we point out in the piece that that’s totally unrealistic? You can’t actually do that.”

“Well,” I said, feeling a little flustered, “we did.” No one said anything for a couple of seconds. I changed the subject.

Was it possible that, rather than promote proper brain development, the decision to shield my kid from TV would instead turn her into some kind of social outcast? A lot of our friends, great parents with great kids, had no such prohibitions on screen time. And the looks I got at that staff meeting certainly had me wondering whether I’d stepped outside the mainstream.

I’m pretty sure we made the right decision, especially after reading the Linn profile. But like I said: Who knows? You do the reading, you talk to other parents, you make your choices.

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