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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A parent’s reality: Staying away from computer is hard for everyone

Turn off the TV!

Unplug that video game right this minute! Your brain is going to turn to mush.

I have no problem saying those things to my kids.

Statistically, I’m an anomaly in this TV-watching world, easily clocking less than 30 minutes a day, if that much. And I hardly ever play video games. So I can stand on my soapbox and proclaim to my children with all the righteousness in the world that such screen things are bad, bad habits.

But the latest campaign encouraging families to “unplug” targets computers, and I find myself tongue-tied.

I can’t tell my kids to shut down their computer without being a hypocrite.

Yeah, sure, Mom, as soon as you turn yours off.

Gulp.

The problem is the computer has wormed its way into my daily life. Beside the fact that I work from home, which demands the computer, I rely on it for a connection to the outside world.

My computer stays on all the time, making it convenient to check for e-mail or scan headlines. It sits just two steps into the den at the top of the stairs, a quick and easy detour to take each time I go up or down. The glow from the screen beckons whenever I’m hauling laundry baskets or searching for that one kid shoe that is never with the other.

So I grab a peek – several times a day – at the headlines on the Internet. From the doorway, I can see whenever new e-mails have arrived, ready for reading. And yes, occasionally I’ll sneak in a mindless game of Solitaire. In two-minute intervals throughout the day, I’m sure I’m putting in more than an hour a day on the computer.

Just the other day my 8-year-old stood behind me as I typed an e-mail response to an editor. “Mom, can I go on my computer?”

“No way. You’ve already had screen time today,” I replied, banging away on the keyboard and never even looking up from the screen.

Gulp.

Of course, I can argue that my computer is far more than just an entertainment element. A lot of the little things that keep this family running get done on the computer. I pay bills, balance the checking account and refill prescriptions online. I send flowers, e-cards and photos to friends and family for birthdays and anniversaries. I do comparison shopping and research before buying anything. I search for coupons and money-saving deals and plan vacations and summer activities. I find and print out homework items, such as cursive writing templates for the kids.

But to a kid who builds amusement park rides on the computer, it wouldn’t matter if I was negotiating peace in the Middle East, screen time is screen time. If he can’t have it, why should I?

So even though I can recite all the positive benefits of turning off the computers, unless I want those arguments to come flying back in my face, the whole turn-off-the-computer-for-a- week campaign is just going to have to slide by in this house.

But, maybe, just maybe I’ll dig out a deck of cards and teach the kids how to play Solitaire the old-fashioned way.

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