After attending a presentation by Simplicity Parenting’s Kim Payne in September, and hearing his message about simplifying the lives of children to help them better cope with the stress of growing up in our high-speed world — turning off, or limiting screen-time being the best way to accomplish that — I’ve been looking hard at my own parenting habits.
My wife and I work opposite shifts, and a lot of the time we’re too tired to come up with a good reason why my daughter can’t watch television. She doesn’t watch TV every day and we try to limit the amount of time she does get, but if we need to get anything done around the house then it’s either find a playdate (and there are slim pickings around dinnertime) or let her watch a show.
I don’t believe that TV and videogames are the demons they’ve been made out to be, but like anything that’s potentially negative it’s a matter of moderation — a kid who played all day at school, went to a physical after school activity and then a playdate at a friend’s house after that deserves a little couch time to relax. But five hours a day of screen time, the average for kids today, is beyond ridiculous. Letting kids play video games intended for adults is also ridiculous. There needs to be limits.
While I’ve been agonizing over my own parenting habits, I’ve received a little positive reinforcement from an unlikely source — standup comedians. I’ve always loved comedy, and my music collection is filled with their work.
Louis CK is particularly good:
On cell phones: “Some parents really struggle with things like ‘all the other kids have the terrible thing so my kid has to have it’ … I think these things are toxic, especially for kids. It’s bad, they don’t look at people when they talk to them, and they don’t build the empathy.
“Kids are mean, and it’s because they’re trying it out. They’ll look at a kid and they go, ‘you’re fat,’ and then they’ll see the kid’s face scrunch up and they’ll go ‘Ooh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ They have to start by doing the mean thing. But when they (text) ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go ‘mmm, that was fun, I liked that.’
“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something (all the time). That’s what the phones are taking away.”
On video games: “Nobody gives a (crap) how they raise their kids. People put minimal effort into it… they’re like consumers for their kids. Like they want to call customer service: ‘Why does he play video games all day? I don’t understand why he plays…’ Maybe it’s because you bought him an f-ing video game, you idiot! Throw it away. Who told you that was a good idea?
On television: “My kids don’t even watch television. And when I tell most other parents that, you know what they say?... ‘They’re gonna grow up weirdoes’ because they don’t watch just f-ing anger and colours screaming in their face.”
On fast food: “It’s insanity, our food… We give them MSG, sugar and caffeine. And, weirdly, they react to those chemicals. And so they yell “Aaaaah!” and then we hit them… ‘Why are you like this?’ ‘Because I haven’t had actual nutrition in eight years, mom. I’m dehydrated. Give me water. Pepsi is not water…’”
On sharing/fairness: “Listen. The only time you should look in your neighbour’s bowl is to make sure they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbour’s bowl to see if you have… as much as them.”
On empathy: “I always tell my kids to cut a sandwich in half right when you get it and the first thought you should have is somebody else. You only ever need half a burger.”
On boredom: “’I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. You live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. And even the inside of your own mind is endless. It goes on forever inwardly. Do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to be bored.”
On parenthood: “It’s hard having kids because it’s boring… It’s just being with them on the floor while they be children. They read Clifford the Big Red Dog to you at a rate of 50 minutes a page, and you have to sit there and be horribly proud and bored at the same time.”
There’s no shortage of great advice out there, but I think I prefer comedians because they’re living it and they’re relatable. They’re not child psychologists or people with theories that don’t quite mesh with the routine of a busy working family. And they have the best message of all to families, which is to keep your sense of humour.