It's easy, oh so easy to hand my kids an electronic device and know that they will be entertained and distracted while I'm trying to get my own work done... on an electronic device.
I have listened to and read the many examples of how these devices are turning our kids brains to jello and creating hoards of 20 something adults who live in their parents basements eating Cheetos while playing minecraft in their underwear. These warnings physically assault me, flooding my body with a tidal wave of shame and guilt each time I witness moments like the one above. Every motherly cell within me screams that I MUST do something to save my kids from such a horrible fate. But what and how?
The other day I was explaining to my whining crew that they weren't going to die of boredom without their devices - that in fact, I never had such things when I was growing up. As they sulked out the trailer door, I rolled my eyes in disbelief - had I actually just uttered those words... had I walked up hill both ways to school too?
Finding balance with electronic devices has been forefront in my mind lately.
Analyzing the situation I realize a large contribution to our problem is that Todd and I are on our devices ALL THE TIME! We run multiple businesses that require us to check email and texts, write and design on computers, and talk to clients. Add that I use apps on my phone to read books and scriptures, edit photos, check the weather and the time, run several social media accounts for our businesses, do research, and keep in touch with family and friends, well it's not a mystery why my children think they should be wired up every hour of the day!
I've chased this problem for a number of years, and as technology embeds itself into our lives, I think might be losing the race.
My oldest children didn't have electronic devices of their own. We owned a family desktop computer and a cordless phone. As cell phones came along first Todd got one for work and as they got cheaper I got one so the kids could get ahold of me if someone was dying. Soon Todd and I upgraded to newer, better models and we passed our devices down to our oldest children so they could listen to music - they didn't have wifi. The kids still spent most of their days running through the woods, making messes, and being bored. I still stalked the local bookstores and always had a stack or two of books beside our bed, the couch, and nearly every flat surface in our home. I believe this combination contributed to my older kids being avid readers.
Fast forward 20 years and now my youngest four kids have phones that either work as a phone (my oldest) or can connect to wifi and be used as a tablet. (younger three) We share three laptop computers and I'm toting around a 27" desktop. Gone are the piles of books. With the advent of Kindle and Amazon and our foray into minimalism and tiny living, ebooks are king. My kids would prefer to sit in front of an electronic device instead of running through the woods or making messes. And being bored? Forget it! They've seen the shining, bouncing, entertaining alternative and are sure they will die if they have to invent something to do that doesn't require power.
While I recognize that electronic devices are tools, that they are here to stay and that my kids need to know how to use them, what I see missing in my children's use of these devices is the thing that makes them useful for me, and you, that is if you can to relate to the Meme's about surviving a childhood in the 70 & 80's. The ability to think, ponder, and be curious about things we're unfamiliar with allows the wonders of our electronic devices to give us unlimited access to a world of knowledge.
But for many children that's not what these devices do. I see my kids using their devices to escape boredom; to sit and be passively entertained until they are irrelevant consumers buying, mimicking, and chasing the products and personalities being marketed to them. They aren't learning new things, they're playing video games, watching mindless youtube videos of other people playing games or opening products. There is nothing wrong with measured amounts of entertainment and I've been known to binge watch Netflix or CBS All Access with a tub of Haagen Dazs Peanut Butter and Chocolate - but most of the time when I'm online I'm working - engaging my brain to accomplish something bigger than myself. I don't see this happening with my children. So again, now what?
I wish that I had the answer.
But the reality is that I don't. I will continue to limit my children's electronic device usage, I will provide opportunities for boredom and exploration. And I will try to explain why... because this is their song to me... why? WHY? why? And my thirteen year old will inevitably stomp out of the trailer with a cup of playdoh in his hands muttering about how crazy i am.
And this is what it means to be in charge of this crew.