My 14-year-old son has seen all nine seasons of the TV show The Office—every episode. He’s equally well-versed in The Simpsons, Psych, Family Guy, How I Met Your Mother, The Walking Dead, House of Cards ... the list goes on and on.
Say what you will about my parenting choices and my permissiveness—both with content and screen time. But one thing is clear: This kid has too much time on his hands.
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Or had. This fall he signed up for his high school cross-country team, and the mock trial team, plus honors English, geometry and advanced band. He’s also the secretary of the teen board at our temple. Most days he leaves the house at 7 a.m. and I don’t see him again until he steps off the late bus at 6:15 p.m.
Admittedly, there are days when the child looks a little piqued. Like a couple of weeks ago, when he attended a cross-country meet on Thursday, then left the next afternoon for a Jewish teen leadership retreat, only to come home Sunday afternoon to homework and a full week of school, including more mock trial practice, more cross-country practice. He got a little pale around the eyes that next week, and as for his mood, well, we tried to steer clear of him until he slept for 12 hours straight the following Saturday night.
That computer screen, long the mad accomplice in my son’s TV binge-watching, is now dark on weekday afternoons.
There are times I worry he will crash, and I will end up with a sick kid at home, fever raging, head pounding, crying to me that he just can’t do this anymore. But then I consider his computer screen.
He does not have a television set in his room because I always swore that I would never cross that Rubicon. It doesn’t matter. Thanks to Netflix and Hulu and his 22-inch computer screen, his Mac laptop doubles just fine as a TV. The laptop was a bar mitzvah present—we pictured him, of course, using it for homework. Which he does all the time—he’s an A student. He also uses it to play world domination video games, and to watch hour-long dramas and 30-minute sitcoms.
That computer screen, long the mad accomplice in my son’s TV binge-watching, is now dark on weekday afternoons and long periods on the weekends as well. I would love to tell you that’s because he’s diving into novels and perusing my teetering pile of New Yorker magazines (I have offered to pay him to read books, $2 per 100 pages, but he only sporadically complies). No, he’s not improving his literary prowess; he’s just literally not at home. And when he is at his desk, at least half the time he’s scrambling to finish the homework he couldn’t do earlier in the day or week.
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Cross-country ends in early November. Mock trial ends around Thanksgiving. So now I’m wondering—what else can he overcommit to in the winter?