My house may be like your house.That's very well stated, and interesting --- the story of America right now, in many ways.
As I type these lines, my daughter, Harriet, who is 14, is on her iPhone skipping among no fewer than eight social media sites: Flickr, Tumblr, Kik, Snapchat, Instagram, Ask.fm, Twitter and Vine. Rarely Facebook. Facebook, she says, is so 2011.
My son, Penn, who is 15, will be asleep for hours yet. He was up all night with a friend playing two video games, Call of Duty and Eve, in a jag fueled by his four favorite foodlike substances: nacho cheese Doritos, Kit Kat candy bars, jelly beans and a Mountain Dew flavor variant known as Code Red. His is the prix fixe menu of the anti-gods.
My kids are smart, kind and more or less well adjusted. I like that they are comfortable and alert in the wired world, able to fish in it like young bears in a salmon stream. But increasingly I am terrified for them. It’s more apparent every day that screens have incrementally stolen them from themselves, and stolen them from us.
My wife, Cree, and I have allowed them to drift quite distantly into the online world, and we fear our casualness has been a calamity. Our kids are paler than they should be, ill at ease with casual boredom, squirmy without Wi-Fi. Their grades are not what they should be. We fear we have left them, as it were, to their own devices.
Each summer Cree and I resolve, over a series of panicked breakfasts at our local diner, to rein things back in. This is when we draft stern rules for a new school year, strictures like: no laptops in bedrooms during the week; homework before screen time; no electronics after 10 p.m.; no iTunes purchases without advance permission, not even that 99-cent Rihanna remix.
These rules invariably begin to crack by Day 3. By Day 4, there is pleading, and the discreet slamming of doors. By Day 5, Harriet is making cryptic remarks about us on Twitter. By Day 6, we are all aggrieved.
By Day 7, Cree and I are threatening them with the treatment a friend calls “the Full Amish” — all plugs pulled. By Day 8, the start of the second week of school, no one is sure what the rules are anymore. We’re back where we started, and plump with dread.
This year it occurred to me we needed help. So I sat down with three new books that offer assistance, understanding and quasi-epic subtitles. They are: “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age,” by Catherine Steiner-Adair with Teresa H. Barker; “The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul,” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang; and “The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World,” by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. (I read an advance copy of this last one; it won’t be published until October.)