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How Do I Keep My Baby From Becoming a Screen Zombie?

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One of my most cherished parenting memories is of Dadd/Dexy movie mornings, where after my wife left for work I would change my little dude, feed him and then pop him in his Exer-Saucer while we watched a movie together. I had a set of strong yet nonsensical rules for the films we would watch: it had to be old, semi-obscure and not too taxing for Daddy or Baby.

While I may love this special time together, my wife is a little worried about how Declan's attention is drawn naturally to a glowing screen, whether that's a TV screen, a laptop or her phone. She's concerned about a future where Declan is a TV or Internet zombie, glassy-eyed and vacant as he ignores the outside world and focuses on Angry Birds or Minions or whatever the hell it is tiny little dudes obsess about these days.

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She doesn't want our son to play video games or spend too much time in front of screens but I have less of a problem with it. Many of my happiest childhood memories were spent in front of screens. There's a big difference between a boy watching a matinee of "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" in a state of open-mouthed awe and deciding he wants to make movies his entire life, and a boy watching reruns of "Mama's Family" while eating a microwave burrito because he has no friends, but I was both those boys as a child, and as a child, television was an enormous source of comfort from the oppressive, overwhelming sadness that I desperately hope will not be part of my son's life.

My own parents tried to limit my exposure to television as a child. In a perhaps not unrelated development, I became a film critic where much of my expertise and authority is derived from the sheer amount of time I have spent staring intently at glowing screens. I love movies and though I'm the author of the family, my wife is a bigger book-lover and reader than anyone I know, including myself.

The cozy, familiar tradition of curling up with a book with a reassuring physical presence has been replaced with turning on another electronic device.

If you had asked us three years ago, I have no doubt that we would have told you that it was absolutely essential to us that our baby grow up in a house full of books, with parents who illustrated the joy of reading on a daily basis. My wife romanticizes books to the point where she has a book tattoo so there is some irony that when we recently moved from Chicago to Marietta, Georgia, we brought along almost no books.

That is partially because we had very little space to pack a whole lot of belongings but mostly because last year my wife, who still has never used an iPod, bought a Kindle that is now her preferred way of consuming books. The Kindle is convenient and economical and saves an insane amount of space but it also means that my wife reading a book now looks identical to my son and myself and the world at large, as her looking at Facebook, or binge-watching "Orange Is The New Black", or texting her friends. It no longer seems as special and distinct as it once did.

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The cozy, familiar tradition of curling up with a book with a reassuring physical presence has been replaced with turning on another electronic device. Something has been lost, to be sure, but much has been gained as well, and I have no doubt that my son will fall in love with books he reads on an e-reader with the same intensity and fervor his parents did with books derived from dead plants and paper mills and a dying industry just barely holding on.

So my wife and I have reasons to simultaneously love and fear the bright screens that make up so much of contemporary life and modern media consumption. The challenge with our son will be teaching him how to control his exposure and emotional connection with viewing media and not let those intoxicating glowing screens control him.

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