The Gift Most Parents Wish They'd Never Given

It’s not too late to swap that screen gift for a toy.
Melanie Hempe

It is that time of year again when parents chase all over town for that one perfect gift. If you are like most parents, and if your child is an all American kid, the chances are pretty high that a new or upgraded, slick, shiny screen device (smartphone or video game) tops the Christmas wish list. But is that the best choice?

My son’s 10-year-old friend said it best last Christmas, “You are so lucky you got real toys for Christmas, all I got was a stack of video games.”

Many parents of high school kids tell me that looking back, the smartphone was the worst gift they ever gave their child. Parents may not realize that the obsession starts when their fifth grader opens his prized possession on Christmas morning. By the time the child is in high school and on ADHD medication, can’t make eye contact with another human being, has slipping grades, is out of control in their social media world, and is struggling with unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety parents wish they had given the new bike instead that Christmas, and delayed the phone gift a few more years.

Last week I was waiting in line at a phone carrier store and had the all-too-familiar conversation with a parent behind me. “I am here getting a flip phone for my 13-year-old. Do you know if they still make them?” he asked. The dad went on to describe the horrible stories behind his child’s smartphone use, which included their child lying to them, gaming during class, cheating in school with the phone and porn exposure. That morning there had been a "violent" episode at the house prompting his visit to the store. “They should put warning labels on these things, I had no idea what I was doing two years ago.”

Young parents just can't imagine how valuable the decision to delay the screen gift really is. In my world of coaching families through media decisions, this sad but familiar screen story is repeated over and over not only with smartphones but video games as well.

About Video Games

From one Charlotte mother of a 14-year-old boy: “My decision to introduce my son to video games and smartphones was the worst decision we ever made. If you enjoy having a peaceful, calm, restful, joyous home … don't buy video games for your son … EVER. If you enjoy a vibrant and thriving marriage being able to focus on each other's needs and talking about your future instead of how you are going to manage getting your son to school the next day, choosing the next psychologist or therapist, and getting him diagnosed with every acronym you can imagine that doesn’t seem to quite fit, from ADHD to Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, then don't buy your son video games … EVER.

If your child is the least bit anxious, don't buy video games for your son … EVER. Gaming and smartphones can exacerbate anxiety conditions. Then you get to agonize with confusion over which disorder he really does have and which one you can medicate. No DS, no Wii, no iPad or letting your 2-year-old play with your smartphone to buy some peace and quiet is worth it. Fight against this with every ounce of your being.

The Xbox has robbed my son of his childhood. Lastly, it will sadly rob [siblings'] lives due to the nature of this addictive beast. They will 'lose' their sibling who they used to play with and talk to. They are deeply affected by the emotional intensity that rules over your household. It starts out very benign and innocently as it did with us, but next thing you know, you are where we are, looking at possibly having to send our son away to a six- to eight-week rehab program for gaming addicts to try to get your boy back. Hopefully by sharing our story, it will save at least one more boy or girl from this phenomenon that is sweeping our country and stealing our kids.”

While this won’t happen to every boy with a video game, this is more common every day. This story is just one of many I hear that reflects the real struggles faced by many families, a struggle that can be avoided simply by delaying the smartphone and screen-game gift.

Join the new movement of parents who are taking a fresh, positive approach to screen problems, and are opting to delay childhood entertainment screen use. Parents are realizing that kids have the rest of their lives to be immersed in smartphones and video games.

Your child only has one childhood so think books, board games, bikes and other family connection activities (road trips, ball game tickets, concerts, camping, park memberships) this year before you shorten their childhood even more with screen gifts. Don't settle for screen gifts this year, enjoy real toys and real experiences instead!

Visit Families Managing Media for more information on childhood screen addictions, local educational workshops and monthly parent meetings.