It’s 9:00 PM in our house—the three kids should be in bed.
My 10-year-old son Sebastian is standing in his underwear, crying hard. His wet bangs hang over the tops of his eyes and his back is still dripping from where he couldn’t reach with the towel.
The tantrum had started in the shower.
“Here,” I say cordially, throwing him some pajamas. “Put these on before you go up to bed.”
“NO!!!” He shouts back. “I’m not doing anything you say right now or ever again! You have ruined my life! I will never be happy on this earth for eternity!!”
Meanwhile, my 8-year-old daughter is violently thrashing around on the floor at my feet, clad in only a towel. She would not let me dry her hair and now it flops and slaps the Pergo floor of our bedroom, leaving streaks of water all along the slatted connections. Every three seconds or so she stops gyrating, just long enough to release a howl of pain:
“It’s not fair, Mommy! Daddy is not being fair!”
The three year old begins to cry, real tears streaming down her face. She sits atop the bed and chucks our copy of Rumpelstilzkin down onto the floor, ducking under the covers where the “enemy” can’t be seen.
Out of sight, out of mind, I think to myself.
There is an audible sigh from the bathroom. My wife. I can tell she is second-guessing my latest parenting chess move.
What have I done, to deserve this, you might ask?I just took away YouTube.
Standing there, water droplets from my daughter’s damp hair spraying my bare feet like a sprinkler, the other two kids’ screams of agony filling the house, my wife silently shaking her head (and judging), I begin to second-guess my actions.
Was this too hasty a decision?
Twenty minutes earlier, I’d been monitoring the kids as they showered and bathed when the conversation turned ugly.
“Sebastian watches videos that say the ‘F’ word,” says the 8 year old.
Silence from behind the shower door.
“Is that true, Sebastian?” I ask, interested.
A long pause. “Sydney listens to tons of songs on her Ipod with the ‘F’ word,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows and look accusingly at my daughter who has her entire body submerged underneath the bath water. Only her nose and eyes breach the surface.
The look on her face tells me everything that I need to know.
Sydney ducks her head under the water.
“My Little Pony does NOT say any bad words,” the 3 year old chimes in from atop the toilet.
See what I mean? I had to do something. But it’s impossible to monitor their every click—how can I know what my kids are watching every minute of the day?
When did this all go wrong, anyway? When did it get so out of control?
It all came on so fast. One minute they’re content watching parent-picked shows like Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer on an actual television set, and now they are self-selecting videos and hearing the ‘F’ word all day on their own personal screens.
My mind was racing. And so I did something rash.
“I am taking away YouTube!” I hear myself say out loud. “Give me all of the electronic devices in this house!”
Every parent knows that once it’s out, you can’t take it back; and every parent knows that once it’s out, you absolutely must follow through.
So I stood there for a long moment, watching all the writhing and flailing and squirming, listening to the whining and bawling and blubbering, just me, holding the IPAD and the NOOK now, along with our two Samsung phones, the Wii remote, all three XBOX controllers and headsets, the IPOD, our two laptop computers and the five TV remotes. I had also rounded up all the charger cords to everything (just for show). They hang down like an army of serpents waiting to charge.
And this is when it kind of hits me, you know? Hits me like a high speed connection.
It’s not the kids’ fault.
It’s not YouTube’s fault.
It’s nobody’s fault, but mine (thanks Zeppelin).
We had come to a crossroads in our house. A clashing of generations. One generation crying and screaming and rolling around on the floor in agony, the other standing up totally clueless.
But mostly, I was a little jealous of You Tube, if you want to know the truth.
I felt left out. I felt like if my kids were going to learn something, especially something as huge as cursing, then I wanted them to learn it from me, from my wife. We were the parents after all, and if our kids wanted to learn to swear then we should be the ones to teach them (Goddamnit)!
YouTube and other social media platforms are stealing all these profound opportunities to have the kind of conversations and interactions that make parenting so awkward and uncomfortable, so ticklish and provocative, so maddening and inane; but also so real, so palpable, so...meaningful.
Standing in the middle of the bedroom holding all of the electronic devices, I realized that our kids were having these awkward conversations on their own, without us, without the un-sustained eye contact, without the Go ask your Mother, without the unsteady voice and the searching for words and the hugging apology, the Let’s sleep on it and the We will talk about it in the morning.
If YouTube can steal our awkward parenting conversations about curse words, what’s preventing it from stealing other moments, too?
It’s a slippery slope, I think.
Like what if YouTube starts stealing the truly great moments—the star-filled night and looking up at the moon, the morning beach walk hand in hand, the first rock concert, the goodnight kiss after reading a book, the first broken heart, the college drop off!? Isn’t everything they need to know available inside the confines of the tiny search bar at the top of the screen?
Can’t they see it all on YouTube?
We won’t let this happen.
YouTube will never replace us, for we are parents. The first and last line of defense. We are built for awkward conversation, for bumbling advice, for getting it all wrong the first time and then making it right later. We must embrace the uncomfortable. We must revel in the delicious complexity of our job.
It’s 9:45 in the evening. All five of us have congregated at the kitchen table. The kids are mostly calmed down, and I give them a chance to grab tissues and blow noses. It is silent except for the occasional sniffle. My wife, holding the three year old in her lap, looks up at me in anticipation of what I will say. I want to say something wise and perceptive, something relevant but lasting, something they will remember and quote later in life, when they are all interviewed by Time magazine... “My dad use to say... “
But my daughter beats me to it.
“I heard you say the ‘F’ word before, Daddy.”
“Me, too,” says my son, blowing his nose again.
“Daddy said the ‘F’ word,” repeats the three year old.
“If you use swears in front of us, why can’t we watch videos that use swears?” Sydney says.
My eyes drop to the floor and I can feel my wife shaking her head. I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. This was quite the curveball.
I can feel the weight of their stares.
We are all connected, here at the kitchen table, and I am here to tell you the connection is strong.
Years from now, they may not remember the exact words that came out of my mouth this evening, but they will remember that I said something. They may not remember the chipped kitchen counter and the light with one bulb out or the sound of crickets coming in through the screen door or the smell of banana bread lingering from dinner.
But they will remember that their parents talked to them.
They will remember that we never shied away from a conversation. A chance to give voice to the complexities of life. We never shied away from a chance to be a parent.
A chance to show YouTube who’s boss.