Jp Green House boysBoys will be boys … online or off.School started this week. We have two fourth-graders and a second-grader. Ken has the misfortune to be driving a carpool that involves four boys and two schools and takes about an hour round-trip. I am biking to work every day now, because we’re cutting back to just the one beat-up station wagon for transportation. Today I was almost hit by a Hummer.

New school year, new shoes, old lunchboxes, and a new household rule that we’re all wrestling with: No internet access except Saturday mornings.

One of our children — and I think it’s fair to keep this private, so let’s say child #1 — was developing an addictive relationship with online gaming. When given the opportunity, he would do nothing but play games on the internet; easily twelve hours at a stretch. Child #2 was also a fan of gaming, but didn’t seem quite so hypnotized — he would cut himself off after two hours. Child #3, who is garrulous and loves sports, was fed up with #s 1 and 2 for being “boring and stupid” — he couldn’t get them to go outside and play much.

We, the parents and parental-figures in the lives of all three, were feeling uncomfortable about the clearly deteriorating situation with our Gamer. He was pale and spindly, and irritable whenever the games were taken away.

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But let’s face it, we all love to have those children who “self-entertain.” We like it when they play alone, or nicely with others, and let us do our own thing much of the time. This is especially true in a house of three boys. Child #1, the Gamer, was pretty easy that way. Just the opposite is true of child #3, who is either talking or moving at all times, and to whom we sometimes say, “Wouldn’t you like to go watch TV for a while?”

Oftentimes, the problem of too much screen-time in a household is really a parental problem. Not only are we all addicted, to a certain degree (I’ll admit my fondness for crafting two to three Facebook posts a day), but we have lost much of the community that made it easier to raise children. It’s well-documented elsewhere (see Robert Putnam’s work) and I won’t rant, but without safe neighborhoods and at-home parents around, our kids’ lives are quite attenuated, and they rightly expect us to entertain them within these limitations.

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Part of the JP Green House project is to create a better childhood for our three boys, and any local kids who want in on it. Looking at the situation we had gotten ourselves into with #1, 2, and 3, it was inevitable that we’d have to fess up to our own bad habits around screens. So we called Comcast and explained: No we don’t want cable TV and 144 channels, along with high speed internet, thank you — just turn it off … no really, turn it off! What do you mean we can’t just have a phone line?

It isn’t pretty. Day 1 of No Internet found #1 first sulking in bed, then raging at his dad, and then secretly staying up until he thought everyone was asleep, and nabbing a cell-phone to play games on.

Day 2 was better: all three kids were out in the street on their bikes, complaining about the excessive number of girls with pink bicycles in the neighborhood. There are worse things than girls who like pink.