There was a lot of debate. Maybe even some downright arguing. Either way, the decision has been made -- and my wife won the argument. Our three kids, aged 10, 9 and 7, are each receiving iPod Touches for Christmas.
The discussions, as we euphemistically like to call them, focused a little bit on the cost of the gift, but mostly on concerns about adding another electronic device to our children's worlds. The gifts, purchased at a Black Friday sale, are considerably more expensive than what we typically spend on Christmas. I would like to say we limit our spending on Christmas gifts in order to teach our kids to not be materialistic. Or, that the holiday is more about the spirit of giving than receiving. But I would be lying. It is simply because I am cheap.
My cheapness, though, does not change the other concerns I legitimately had, and still do have, about giving our young children such a gift. We limit "screen time" for our children, which includes television, computers, Wii and the like. And, before you even think it, this truly is not part of my cheapness -- it is not as though I am trying to cut down on the PG&E bill. I want my trio of kids to learn and grow and be able to entertain themselves without constant stimulation. Essentially, in our household, they get no screen time during the school week and we try to limit it to an appropriate amount on the "Wiikends," as our youngest has named them.
What will happen when they each have their own, portable screen, though? It will become much harder to limit the amount of time they spend on their individual devices. I tell my kids that screens melt their minds; they know I am only joking, but it does often take away time from activities that do develop their minds. Reading, imaginative playtime, practicing the piano, and physical exercise outside are activities we encourage instead of mindlessly sitting in front of the television.
It is the content they will be able to access that really scares me. Our computer is password-protected and has nanny software to keep my kids' sweet little eyes from seeing things they do not need to see. How do you control that with their own Wi-Fi-enabled iPod Touch? To the best of my knowledge, it is not even possible.
But maybe it is time to start loosening the reins on the kids after we have worked so hard to teach them right from wrong. That is, after all, the eventual goal. We are not always going to be there, looking over their shoulders, telling them what is appropriate and what is not. I realize they are not old enough to have carte blanche access to the whole World Wide Web, but maybe a little more than what they have now. We have taught them the basic foundation of our morals and values and perhaps it is time to slightly expand their access to the real world for them to apply that foundation to it.
They have earned our trust, too. If we are driving in the car and an inappropriate song comes on, but I do not notice, they tell me, "Daddy, this song isn't appropriate for us." We also get reports from our friends, after one or more of our kids have been over for a playdate, that our kids announce loudly if something comes on the television that is not permitted at home. What is the point of trust if I do not give it to them when they have earned it?
So, this Christmas, along with their fancy iPod Touches, I am giving my children the gift of trust. It is the best gift I could give them to reward the hard work and character they have displayed.
Well, since they still have a lot of years of maturing to go, maybe just a little bit of trust for now.
Thomas A. Clobes of Bakersfield, a husband and father of three children, is a medical device salesman with a Ph.D. in health sciences.