Me, My Children, and the Computer

The day this summer that my son jumped in front of the computer with his arms flailing back and forth, chanting “Noooooo, don’t get back on the computer, Mom!,” was a sad, sad day for me, but also a huge wake-up call. As someone who prides herself on being somewhat detached from technology in general, and who wants to set a good example for her children, I was initially defensive. I reassured my son that I certainly do NOT spend very much time on the computer and that he must be imagining things. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that I have started to spend more and more time on the computer, and much of this time is spent during my children’s waking hours. Whether it is typing up agendas for the moms’ group, making back-to-school appointments and purchases online, researching hotels for a family vacation, or simply responding to emails from people who are relying on my prompt response, I find that the screen time required of me has increased greatly over the past couple of years. Here are a few of the things that I have done since my wake-up-call about 6 weeks ago:

1) I did feel that it was necessary to explain to my 9 year-old son that the time that I spend on the computer looks very different from the time that he spends on the computer, which is on the weekends when he gets to play a game for one hour. My computer time is mostly spent doing work and responding to emails, I explained to him, and sometimes I cannot avoid doing this work during the day.

2) In order to reduce daytime screen time, I leave my mindless computer tasks until after the kids have gone to bed, saving the tasks that require me to actually think for during the day when I am (somewhat) alert.

3) I have re-evaluated the time that I spend on the computer and have tried to cut out tasks that end up being a waste of time. For example, as convenient as it would be to buy my shoes online, my personal experience is that I spend a long time looking for the right pair, only to walk away from the purchase at the last minute because I worry that they won’t fit properly. Another example for me would be trip-planning – I can (and have) wasted hours online, searching for great deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars. In reality, I can cut out a lot of this time if I have a good conversation with my husband first. We can plan a lot of the trip by talking through the details, eliminating many options and pin-pointing exactly what we are looking for, rather than having me sit in front of a computer screen trying to make all of these decisions on my own.

4) When possible, I pick up the phone and call someone. Oftentimes, email is the most effective form of communication, but there are times when a phone call is appropriate and I think that there is something better about my kids seeing me on the phone than on the computer. That could just be me, though.

These are a few of the steps that I have taken over the past couple of months, and my goal is to continue to reduce my computer time. Have you found that the screen time required of you has increased in recent years? If so, how do you manage your computer time so that it fits in with your family life?

Many blessings to you on this Monday morning. Mary, virgin Most Prudent, pray for us!

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  • Yes, I do almost everything on the computer. I now even order my groceries on the computer! My kids have said similar things to me too, regarding the computer, the phone, AND taking a shower!!!!! Seriously!?! So you do have to take what they say with a grain of salt. I have actually found that my kids tend to complain more about a lack of attention from me when they get used to me giving them attention during a particular period of time, and then I have to get something done during that time. So, for example, if I never talk on the phone in the mornings, but then one morning I have to talk on the phone to call the doctor or call back a contractor, they whine about me being on the phone and interrupted me continually! So with the computer, I have instead tried to self evaluate and do what you did in this post — figure out what is an efficient use of the computer, what is not, and then try to have a set time where I do those things. I wind up spending waaaaay too much time on the computer when I start getting on FB during the day, or reading blogs outside of my “set” time to do so. And I had a similar experience to you with searching for a vacation place online — huge waste of time. I think next time I may just pay the extra money and hire a travel agent to do that work for me.

  • Elaine

    I have pulled myself away from technology a lot this summer and it feels fantastic! No FB! And I cut down the number of blogs I read as well and try to read them only at night a couple of times a week. I do respond to emails during the day from my phone, but that’s it. I really feel like there is so much less stress in my life and I’m definitely more present with my children. The only problem I have found is that the rest of the world has not done this. haha People no longer send out birth or wedding announcements and snail mail is all but gone. It’s all done through social media, so I’m out of the loop of a lot of my friends’ lives. Guess I’ll have to bring back letter writing! 🙂

  • Mary Alice

    For some of these things, I think it is worth thinking about how much time you spent as a kid being dragged on random errands, and maybe even explaining that to your children. For example, we have made the opposite decision regarding shoes in our family, it is almost always more efficient for us to shop online, than for me to try to shop with 7 children in tow. If I am doing that kind of work while I am on my phone and the kids are at the playground, I might remind them that the alternative would be to be told to stop running around a store.

    On the other hand, too many options can be a huge waste of time, and also make us long for things that are unrealistic.

    We do a lot of longer car rides, so I do some of that web browsing in the car while we are listening to a book on tape and my husband is driving, sometimes reading things like travel options or Wikipedia entries aloud to him.

    I also find that I let the computer use up what little personal time I might be able to sneak in – for example, right now my kids are happily engaged elsewhere, and I should be showering and getting dressed, but instead I am writing this!

    The main thing is to be intentional and open to correction, I think that most of us need to be *trying* not to get too sucked in to our screens, whether TV or computer, for ourselves and our kids, and then it will probably work out okay.

  • Kat0427

    I do enjoy shopping online for items that I know work for our family – lots of our cosmetics/household items, clothes from Lands’ End, uniforms, etc. I also sometimes go to the shoe store to get measured and then order the shoes online, especially if they’re out of the size at the store. I like the idea of reminding my kids that they would have to run more errands with me if we didn’t have the online option – thanks, MA!
    Elaine, I love your point that “the rest of the world hasn’t detached from technology” – this is the reason that I continue to check email, FB, blogs, etc. I want to remain in the loop. I did disconnect almost completely for the two weeks that we were away on vacation this summer, and it was great! But then I had so much work to do when I returned home – I’m still catching up!

  • Mrs C

    Great post. I’m struggling with the same issue.

    For now I’m trying to use the computer only when the children are asleep (like now – during afternoon naps). I know it will get harder once I have older children who no longer need an afternoon nap and I do find it difficult in the evening because I’m so tired but I think the sacrifice is worth it. I’m starting to become very efficient with my web/computer use at night. I am trying (although not always succeeding) to draw up a list of things I need do or buy online and I try to get through it as quickly as I can. I can’t teach my children self-discipline and detachment if I don’t have it myself.

    We aren’t on FB. I deleted my account in 2008 and it was one of the best technology decisions I’ve made. I stay in contact via email and snail mail with the people who really matter and I don’t waste time online satisfying idle curiosity about the lives of acquaintances. It has forced my family (all overseas) to email and write me (which, despite some resistance, they now do) and we’re all better off for it.

    The fact I’m not on Facebook allows me slightly more time (not much admittedly) to peruse blogs like this one which (hopefully) either inspire or educate and will help me in my vocation as a wife and mother.