I expected that being a good parent would often mean standing alone.
No, you can't stay out past midnight. No, you can't have the car keys. No, you can't have a $200 pair of jeans.
What I didn't expect is that the standing alone part would start so young. My kid is SIX.
No, you can't have an iTouch. No, you can't have unfettered access to the internet. No, you can't ask the Tooth Fairy to leave you a $20 bill, just because you have a friend who did.
Was it always this way, where the indulgences of adulthood commenced their siren song on the KINDERGARTEN playground? I don't know... my memory is foggy about my own childhood... the only struggles I remember were over when I could get my ears pierced (so far, my daughters' earlobes are intact) and when I could get a private landline telephone in my bedroom (ahahaha landline). But historically accurate or not, I feel that our children are much more jaded than we were, and at such a tender age. Not that it's their fault-- every kiddie tv program concludes with "Ask a grown-up and go to www dot..." Every elementary school classroom comes equipped with its Mean Girls and its designer clotheshorses. Every iPhone seems limitlessly loaded with children's video games, PERFECT for entertaining little ones on long flights.
And yet, there my husband and I sit, wearily suffering in our crowded airplane seats, trying desperately to keep 3 children under 7 entertained with good old-fashioned coloring books, stickers, and snacks.
Sometimes I ask myself: ARE OUR KIDS REALLY ANY BETTER OFF?
So WHAT if we were to let them screw around on PlayhouseDisney.com, or NickJr.com, or PBSkids.com after school? So WHAT if we were to indulge them with the occasional designer duds or Tooth Fairy windfall? So WHAT if we were to give each of them an iTouch, at least for long trips or waiting rooms or rainy Saturday afternoons?
Part of me wants to give in. Part of me knows that the "research" on children and early access to technology is inconclusive; maybe one day it will be proven that kids who exist primarily in a virtual world end up SMARTER and more mentally NIMBLE than those who exist primarily in the tangible world. Part of me has grown impatient with drafting scavenger hunt lists, and playing boring board games, and negotiating over how many pages are to be read before bedtime. Maybe kids do just FINE with greater access to technology, money, and other adult fare.
But even as I write that... it doesn't sound right to me. A six-year-old doesn't NEED a 20-dollar bill from the Tooth Fairy, any more than she NEEDS designer jeans, any more than she NEEDS access to the internet. I actually do, for the most part, BELIEVE the party line that I routinely deliver around here: If we let you do all the grown-up stuff NOW, then what will you have to look forward to when you're older??
And yet I'm exhausted. Already! Exhausted from trying to stand by my principles; exhausted from trying to raise my own kids within the basic structural framework in which I was raised. Because this is not the 70s anymore, and it's no longer just a question of how many hours a kid spends in front of the boob tube each day. Today a parent has to do this tedious calculation of hours of tv + hours of internet + hours of text message + hours of instant message + hours of Farmville. And then we have to worry whether there is ANY hour left over for homework.
In the end, I think I struggle not because I don't believe in the uphill battle I'm waging-- I do-- but because I feel like it's a battle I am DESTINED TO LOSE. At *some* point in the future, I am going to HAVE to give my daughters a computer... a cell phone... money to go to the mall; and I can't help but feel that THAT is the moment when I lose them. Because truly, when given the choice between Facebook and Physics 101, what conventionally-wired teenager could EVER possess the self-restraint to make the "right" choice? Would *I* have been able to resist it, if I were a kid in this day and age?
And so I question myself. And then I feel guilty. And I worry that I'm asking too much of my girls, or denying them too much. And I dread the inevitable, when technology plants itself squarely in the center of our family room and preempts our low-tech human interactions.
And then I go check my Facebook account.
What do *you* think? Is the Apple computer also YOUR family's forbidden fruit? Or am I just making life harder than it needs to be?