Grocery cart no place for video player

September 20, 2006|By Sharon Hernes Silverman

WEST CHESTER, Pa. -- If you see a grown woman throwing a tantrum in your local supermarket, stop and say hi. That screaming adult will be me. No, I won't have lost control of myself. I'll be staging a protest against the latest gadget designed to undermine parents' interaction with their children: video players in supermarket carts.

As if there weren't enough screen time in kids' lives (at least four hours a day on average, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that children 2 and younger watch zero television), brace yourself for the TV Kart, a car-shaped wagon-for-two being tested in some U.S. stores. New Zealand manufacturer Cabco is poised to infiltrate American supermarkets and discount chains in a big way.

The appeal to parents is understandable. Many of us look at shopping with the kids as slightly less excruciating than having our fingernails pulled out. "What's the harm?" fans of the technology may ask. "All I want to do is get through this as fast as possible."

The answer lies within the question itself. Somewhere along the line, parents started to evaluate success not in terms of excellence but in terms of survival. We "just want to get through" this shopping trip, today, next week, the marking period, soccer season, the school year, etc.

Inherent in this attitude may be resentment and disappointment that few of us admit to but many of us unconsciously act on. We are annoyed and exhausted by the "hundred percent-ness" of parenting. We can't change a baby's diaper 99 times and let him sit in a wet one the hundredth; we can't decide to follow closely behind a 1-year-old as she goes up the steps 99 times and let her fend for herself the next; we can't ever put our kids in the car unbuckled, leave little ones at home while we do an errand, turn our backs while they're in the bathtub, or do any one of a thousand other things that would give us a break.

As the kids get older, the pressures change, but they don't seem to diminish. Even though we love our children, we miss our kid-free autonomy and the energy we used to have. Add that to our sense of being overworked, overtired and underappreciated, and it's no wonder that we lose sight of our long-term parenting goals.

These feelings are valid and appropriate. Giving into them is neither.

And that means that an attitude adjustment for ourselves, not our kids, may be in order. Making that mental shift can remind us that we really don't want to raise kids who are either bored or bouncing off the walls if they don't have a screen in front of them. We want our children to grow up happy, smart and pleasant to be with, and it is our solemn responsibility to help them turn out that way, even when - especially when - we don't feel like it. Doping the kids up on what has been aptly called "visual Valium" at home or at the store isn't the way to achieve our long-term parenting goals.

(By the way, if you think your supermarket has your best interests at heart, consider this: According to Cabco, "Adding TV Karts generates an extra $100,000 in sales a year for a store." Not to mention a commission on rentals - parents pay a $1 fee to activate the cart. Altruism knows no bounds.)

Shopping isn't just a chore. It is also an opportunity - a chance to interact with our children and hear what they're thinking. To teach preschool kids things such as letters and colors. To involve older children in reading labels and choosing nutritious food for the family. To give them the chance to express opinions and make choices. To help them learn patience and moderation, and how to handle temptation. To guide them in their interactions with others in a public setting.

When TV Karts show up in your supermarket, I encourage you to pass them by. If your kids put up a fuss, explain calmly that the market is for shopping, not for video time. Then stow your cell phone, put a smile on your face and get the kids involved. Not only will you be setting a powerful example, but you also may actually enjoy the experience.

And I'll be able to get up off the floor.

Sharon Hernes Silverman is the author of "13 Steps to Help Families Stop Fighting," "No More Homework Headaches!" and eight other books. Her e-mail is shs.sun@brandywineguide.com.

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