Like a lot of parents who welcome new technology today, I hope I won't regret it.
I am typically a Dr. No with my kids, not the grown-up they want with them at Chuck E. Cheese's or Toys R Us.
But Christmas is about saying "Yes" to a few things. So, there will be a lot of joy when my kids open their joint present from Santa -- a Sony PlayStation 3.
Last year, after Santa brought a Google (GOOG) Nexus for each kid, we struggled over limits -- three hours on the weekends -- as well as over household bandwidth issues and the predictable post-screen-time surliness when the electronics were turned off. My kids have never called 911, like one kid in Oregon did when his mom turned off his PS3, but they would petition a higher court if they thought it would stay a "tech injunction."
We eventually found an equilibrium. And that gives me hope for the PS3. (Yes, I mean the PS3, which has been around since the mid-2000s. The new, more expensive Sony PS4 has fewer games available for it right now, or so said the clerk at GameStop.) Rather than hate the new system, I am already thinking about how it can work for me, a carrot and stick, a new family member who will prove useful.
With each new device, tech takes over our lives a little more. It can make us a little more anti-social if we let it. We know we have to push back and create rules for ourselves: No surfing the Web while talking on the phone. No checking email at the dinner table.
And that's fine for adults. What I worry about for kids is that digital media -- the games, emails, texts, videos -- is too compelling. Faced with a screen (or at my house, three screens while my son plays Minecraft), they forget everything they used to like to do. And we forget, too. As a mother said to me recently as she dropped off her son at my house, what are they going to do if there's no screen time -- play board games?
I had a front-row seat to the consuming nature of video games at the dawn of the industry. It was Christmas Day in 1975 when Santa brought my three sisters and me an Atari. My dad quickly set up the system, and we began to play Pong. I remember screaming, startled to control something on a screen. My father was the most obsessed. For him, it was man versus the game.
Flash forward decades, and I'm now an anxious parent worried about my kids' media diet. I could have given them a device-free childhood, but, I would have had to live a double standard since I like digital media.
Besides, there are upsides to a new device or game console. They can become a parent's control stick, great leverage for a while. I shamelessly horse-trade extra screen time in exchange for things I want my kids to do like going for a long walk with the dog or helping in the yard.
And this may not be the best parenting, but I use tech as a threat. Occasionally, I overdo it and yell, "I'm going to break the MacBook if you don't get your shoes on now."
"Remember the technology is supposed to enhance and enrich your life," said Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media. She is against using the "nuclear option" of threatening to take away a technology. "It sets up a dynamic that creates tension around a device," she said. "I don't recommend giving something and then imposing all these rules, because that is not a gift. Reiterate the rules that you still don't want to overdo it."
Her key advice for families with new technology: "Find ways to enjoy it as a family. The kids will be better at it than you are and that's great for them. There is so much value about learning something together as a family and your kids seeing you working hard."
Larry Magid, a technology columnist who appears in this newspaper, says kids are smarter than parents give them credit for when it comes to managing themselves but they can get lost in it all. Parents mistakenly lump all of the screen time in one category and have a blanket time rule, which he generally opposes. "Interactive games are different from passive television," he said. "It's not the same as sitting in front of the boob tube."
And so as I welcome the PS3, I have to remind myself everything is going to be OK, that an extra 30 minutes or hour or two of game time is not the end of their childhood. We'll turn it off and do other things.
So rather than cursing the PS3, I'm getting ready to play.
Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at Twitter.com/michellequinn.