Nowadays, it feels like there is an endless list of things we as parents “shouldn’t” allow our kids to do. We shouldn’t allow them to spend more than 20 minutes in front of the TV or using their tablet. We should have them in bed as soon as the clock strikes 7:30. And during those 20 precious minutes of screen time we’re allocated each day, it has to be educational.
It feels like everything we have to feed them must be dyed with beets and taste like cardboard. You can’t even let your kid play outside while you clean up the living room they’ve destroyed because you shouldn’t leave them alone and someone might call the cops.
But most of the things kids “should” and “shouldn’t” do are total bullshit, and I’m tired of it.
Like, let’s get real about screentime. How many of us are actually giving our kids less than hour with the tablet or TV? (Cue the comments, because if you do follow ‘the rules’ then you must shout it from the rooftops, right?) Especially on the weekends if we have no immediate plans. If you’re not throwing an iPad at them and begging them for an hour to try and clean, then you’re either a superhero or a liar. And I’d be willing to take bets on the liar one being the truth. Look, if my kid wants to watch Ryan’s Toy Review on YouTube until the battery on the phone dies, I’m not going to stop him. It’s his way of relaxing. Sure, I don’t understand how he’s entertained by watching another kid play with toys, but I’m not five.
“But what about their brains? They need stimulation other than through a screen!”
Slow your roll there, Susan. Thanks to YouTube, my kid knows the eight planets in the solar system, and what a fucking durian fruit is, okay? He told me the uses of a backhoe! My dad was a construction worker for the first 12 years of my life and my five year old explained it all to me in 10 minutes. I’ll never forget when a stranger asked me how he knew what a pentagon was at age three, I was like, “He watches shape videos on YouTube.” I’m not ashamed.
Not to mention that more often than not, allowing our kids to do things they “shouldn’t” teaches them to learn limits and set boundaries. Take for example, letting them stay up past their bedtime. I’ve become a pretty strict enforcer of the bedtime, mainly because he turns into a four-foot asshole when he’s too tired, but sometimes for shits and giggles, I let him stay up late. And you know what? He turns into a cranky asshole. But I let him learn that lesson on his own. He’ll almost always put himself to bed early the next day.
And although I know he’ll turn into a cranky asshole, I still let him stay up sometimes even though we’ll both pay the price. Because sometimes we just don’t have any other time to connect with each other, and bonding is just as important as an extra 30 minutes of sleep. When you’re constantly busy, it’s nice to have a few minutes to reconnect and have some real quality time together. It’s in those quiet moments when kids tend to be the most vulnerable. Because their defenses are down, they are more apt to tell you what’s going on in their lives. We have some of our best chats in the time where I’ve allowed an extra few minutes before it’s time to be quiet and go to sleep.
During Matt Damon’s recent SNL appearance, he talked about letting his daughter stay up late even though he shouldn’t. In the opening monologue, he mentions getting to stay up late to watch the show with his dad. Breaking the bedtime rule created a special moment between him and his dad because those are the things that tend to stick with you when you’re an adult. And more often than not, those are the same kind of memories you strive to create with your own kids.
How many times have you ever heard someone say, “My mom let me stay up late sometimes, and that’s why I became a serial killer?” Pretty sure the answer is never. Giving our kids the freedom to break the rules sometimes and have a little fun isn’t going to harm them. Chances are, it creates a stronger bond between us.
My kid thinks I’m way cooler when I allow him to pull all the sheets and pillows off the bed and make a fort. Or climb all over the furniture like he’s a cat. Maybe he shouldn’t be climbing on the furniture like a jungle gym, but sometimes, you just gotta say “fuck it” and pray he doesn’t break an arm.
As parents we get too caught up in the hype. While knowledge is obviously powerful, sometimes I think our parents got some things right. They didn’t worry if one night we had nothing but Doritos for dinner. How many moms happily plunked us down in front of the TV on a Saturday morning with a bowl of sugary cereal so they could go back to bed or read the paper in peace? Are we axe murderers? No. So, maybe we need to relax a little and let our kids live a little more.
Here are things kids shouldn’t do. Kids shouldn’t make fun of kids who don’t look like them. Kids shouldn’t shun their peers because they’re gay. Kids shouldn’t be assholes to trans kids. Kids shouldn’t torment their peers until they decide to die by suicide. Those are things kids shouldn’t do.
But staying up late, or watching TV for a few hours? Those are things other people (who probably don’t have kids) have said we shouldn’t let them do. Your kid “shouldn’t” consider cheddar goldfish to be a food group. But if they do? You’re not a failure. We need to focus less on the shouldn’ts and put more stock into the shoulds.