Take back family time

By Dara Riegel

Press and Sun-Bulletin

May 7, 2007


"MMMOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM....She's TOUCHING meeeeeeeee!" "NUH UHHHHH...SHE's touching ME!"

And so went long-distance car rides between me and my little sister. Somewhere around the second tank of gas on the way to Cape May, NJ from Binghamton we would get a little on the defensive side over whose slightly damp flesh was the offender in the un-air conditioned car. Any rest stops were followed by a brief scuffle over who got to sit where before getting back to the task at hand: getting to our destination without maiming one another too terribly.

We still sometimes go fisticuffs over who gets to sit in the front seat. Though my mother has a VERY difficult time understanding why two mostly grown women, one married with a "real" job, the other thriving in college, and both fairly intelligent, would risk deeply embarrassing their mother in broad daylight over who sits where. The fact is, we couldn't care less -- but it's fun! It reminds us of our younger days when we spent countless hours driving each other crazy and having fun, and having fun driving our mom and grandparents crazy.

I worry sometimes about the current seat-squabbling generation. You can't watch TV for 20 minutes without seeing an ad for iPods or portable DVD players, or the worst: cars with DVD players built in.

There is a series of advertisements out right now that target parents, telling them that if they give their kids what they want, nonstop stimulation in the form of movies, the parents will get what they want, which is apparently to forget that they have children and get some peace and quiet for a few minutes. Now I understand that parents need alone time, quiet time and breathing time, BUT shouldn't that time be separate from the time they spend with their children?

While we undoubtedly drove our mother insane with our incessant Stop-Touching-Me's, she and my grandparents were always involved in our family time. These ads are not only encouraging a chasm between age groups, they are promoting a blatant disintegration of the family unit, regardless of the shape that unit takes.

Seeing advertisements for breakdown of family structure, or seeing a family out to dinner with two kids plugged into electronic devices, makes me want to reach out to all the kids, parents, and everyone in between, including the marketing teams for multi-billion dollar companies, and remind them how important having a real childhood is, complete with the screaming and the messes and the mismatched clothes and the boisterous family car rides. It all fosters creativity and feelings of togetherness and all the important stuff that kids need to grow into well-rounded adults. Without that messy, emotionally draining, time-consuming, wonderful human contact, we're no better than the robots that installed the DVD players in all those mini-vans.

Regardless of how much parents may think they want quiet time, I know that deep down, under the exhaustion and worry, they just want their kids to be happy, the same way their parents just wanted them to be happy. I think it's time we took family time back.