This column will be just as helpful without the joke--equal parts old, offensive, and terrible--in the following paragraph:
Having fasted for three days waiting in the snow, the woman is told by the disciples that she may finally speak to the great guru whom she has traveled half a world to see. "But he is busy," the devotees go on. "Each penitent may speak only four words to his eminence." Bowing, the woman approaches the throne and says, "Sheldon. Enough is enough."
How much is enough in your house? Do your children have unfettered access to media of all kinds? Because the only way they can get an iPad, television, computer, PlayStation or other device is through you. Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not a child should have her inheritance at 25 or 35 years of age. But no rational person would argue that a ten year old should be empowered to make decisions about the disposal of his fortune. ("We had hoped Percy would continue to invest in the index fund that his great-grandfather founded, but instead he bought ten million dollars' worth of Pringles potato chips. No, not Pringles stock. The actual potato chips. He has rented a storage unit. A number of storage units actually. Ten million dollars buys a lot of potato chips.") Kids that young don't have their own money. If they're playing video games, it's because you, their parents, have allowed and encouraged. You are a Quisling. You are responsible.
I'm not judging you; I'm not throwing a stone at you; I'm not saying that you have abdicated one of your most fundamental responsibilities as a loving parent. I'm just suggesting that the research is clear: you know those treatment centers for video game addiction? Kids who don't play video games don't get to go to them.
Screens of all kinds can be problematic for some kids. You don't want to gamble that your kid is one for whom screens will have a significant negative influence. Parents have to step up and help their children make some easy decisions. You don't allow your pre-adolescent child to watch XXX-rated pornography. (Or if you do, don't bother reading the rest of this column. We are on opposite sides of such a high fence that there is nothing for us to discuss.) Why would you let your kids choose what shows to watch? Especially when there is so much good stuff already out there?
If you insist of allowing your children to watch television--and I am the first to admit that it's hard not to--can you at least set the standard for what is appropriate? There are enough television shows. More than enough. For every one hour of you tube video that your child watches, there are 6000 more hours of content created. You don't let your child have ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day, why would you allow her to choose to watch inappropriate images infinitely?
Especially when there are--stop me if I've used this word before--enough shows that are NOT filled with violent, disjointed images that give me a headache just thinking about them. I'm not sure that I can sell you, gentle reader, on the idea of "The Andy Griffiths Show," but I can tell you that it is available for free. If watching a few episodes with your child brings you to a discussion of women's rights in the south and how our country has progressed these past 50 years, that conversation suits me just fine.
Speaking of North Carolina, some parents I know up that way felt forced to send their 14-year-old son to treatment for addiction to video games two years ago. Jeremy had refused to do homework, refused to go to school, refused to participate in family activities, refused to eat (not a typo) unless and until he was allowed to play a violent video game six or eight hours every weekday, more on the weekends. After making good progress in wilderness therapy, Jeremy went on to spend a year at a residential treatment facility to do more work on his addiction to video games. He is now enrolled in a traditional boarding school and doing pretty well.
The irony is that Jeremy's parents are allowing Jeremy's brothers--ages 12 and 10--to play video games.
"They'll be ostracized," Jeremy's parents say. "All the kids play video games. They won't have any friends if they don't."
So, I'm reaching out to my community of readers and friends with these questions:
What TV shows do you recommend for 12 year olds?
Are there kids in your neighborhood who don't play violent video games? If so, what do these kids do?
And in your home, when do you say, "enough is enough?"