Last Friday as I was driving with my son, Michael James (4 1/2), I mentioned how quiet he was, zoning out in the backseat. He said, “I’m just trying hard NOT to think about my computer.” It was our first experiment enjoying (and apparently, struggling through) a “No-Tech” day in our family and in our home. This goal is part of my vision for our family for the year ahead (and beyond, hopefully.)
A day without computers and TV, a day without checking e-mail or blogging, a day without texting or Facebook. (Those last two aren’t biggies for me, but I know they are for some.) This idea stems from a book called The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iphone) Pulled the Plug on their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale) by Susan Maushart, in which the author underwent an “experiment” with her own children to spend an 6 months “disconnected” in order to re-connect. You can imagine the initial protest, but it turned out that their home became a haven for friends coming over to play board games, even legos and hide and seek. Very inspiring! That’s the kind of connection and energy I want in my home, and for my family. (And imagine the luxuriously quiet moments, too!)
Granted, I don’t have totally wired teens yet, but I see MJ becoming increasingly addicted to his little hand-held computer. And Ellie (2 1/2) follows his lead, though she still relies on me to push the buttons for “Elmo’s First Day of School” on pbskids. And though I limit screen-time and don’t allow computers in the car, it seems that MJ’s computer is always on his mind. (Mind you, the “Leap Frog” was a “surprise” gift from the in-laws that I probably would not have bought myself.) I don’t want to take this away from him altogether (he LOVES to play snuggled with Daddy in bed when he comes home from work in the mornings, and this allows me time to focus on Ellie or breakfast), but I do want to model and encourage healthy moderation so that this little gadget doesn’t re-program his brain away from all healthier activities. And I know what the research says about the benefits of “down-time” (this does not mean snacking in front of the TV!), but unstructured time without stimulation in which your child’s brain has a chance to guide them. Studies show that kids who are used to such down-time are more self-motivated with better self-regulation, do better in school, and are less likely to experience “boredom” as teenagers – the “boredom” that leads to risky behaviors. The computer is a constant pull for me, as well. Not for “ninja penguin games”, but to check e-mail or write a post – there is always work to be done when I open it up, and it often takes me away from more relaxing, connecting activities. For my own well-being, I had already begun following a few computer guidelines: 1) No computer after 10:00 pm. 2) Don’t try to work on the computer while kids are around. (This just becomes frustrating, adds stress, and I lose patience.) 3) No computer while sitting on couch with Dustin. 4) Declare a one-day sabbatical from the computer to give myself (and my brain) a break.
And the TV? Well, the kids are limited to 1 or 2 shows a day (story-videos from library or good, developmentally-appropriate shows without commercials that I record for convenient times like when Mommy’s getting breakfast on the table or taking my weekly shower). But Mommy, on the other hand, doesn’t always stick to that criteria for herself after the kids are in bed. (From what little I’ve seen, I would argue that “Toddlers and Tiaras” is not really developmentally appropriate for any age group, thought it has been known to cross my out-dated “fat”- screen TV.) And I’ve always thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to just spend an evening reading quietly in the living room?” (but I rarely choose this over TV). So, now’s my chance…
Anyway, I was nervous about decreeing our new family law, so I called it “Family Fun Day” to give it a positive spin! As in...“Good News, kids! Today we get to spend time together finding all kinds of fun stuff to do – the stuff we don’t do when we’re on the computer or watching TV!” MJ and Ellie both fussed initially, but not as long as they would have had I waited another month or 10 years before announcing the plan! Turns out it was a great day, and by the end of it, we were all on board and looking forward to next week’s “Family Fun Day”! (I do recommend scheduling it for when both parents can be around most of the day.) Here’s a sample of our “fun” together …
- When Daddy got home in the morning from his night-shift, he and MJ looked together at a cookbook to decide on a meal for later (instead of playing “Penguins of Madagascar” on the little computer).
- MJ spent time coloring his wooden dinosaur skeleton in the morning while Ellie played with her baby (pushing her in the stroller and “feeding” her breakfast. (Normally they would have been on computers or watching “Olivia”.)
- In the afternoon, MJ (all on his own) found the supplies and made a necklace with beads, bells, and pipe cleaners. (This was when he usually would have been watching “Blue’s Clues”.)
- After rest-time, MJ and Daddy rode bikes to the grocery store to get the ingredients for their chosen dinner recipe and I took Ellie for a walk in the stroller. (Sometimes Ellie watches a show when she wakes up.)
- When we got back, we all played outside in the yard kicking the soccer ball and climbing trees.
- Both kids helped Daddy cook dinner, and I struggled not to open the computer to get some work done. Instead, I practiced piano and guitar just for fun!
- I also did a little laundry, and discovered that Ellie is a great folder! (She proudly folded and stacked Daddy’s underwear for him – “Hello Kitty”-themed, just like hers.)
- After our candle-lit family dinner and a “family bath” (that means Daddy and kids), MJ suggested we go for a family “moon” walk (they’ve been talking about space at school). We went outside and looked at the crescent moon and stars, singing a few songs, making wishes, and philosophizing about alien life.
- When the kids were asleep, instead of turning on the old boob tube, Dustin and I had a good, long “conversation”. (definition: oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas, between 2 or more people).
- Then we, well…(ahem)…re-connected.
- No TV’s in bedrooms (half of American kids have them – lots of research claiming ill effects).
- Just one TV in the house. (Watch together or compromise.)
- No hand-held computers or DVD in the car – talk, sing, play, read, gaze instead. (Remember 20 Questions? Save DVD player for long road trips.)
- No TV for children before age 2. (new research shows that not only does it have no benefit, but could be detrimental) More info on kids and TV children and the media article. Also, consider no TV on school nights, especially if your children already have homework – their time and your time with them is so limited! (Let them relax by playing outside, playing a game, or reading book, instead!)
- AAP recommends 2 hours or less of screen-time daily. (Perhaps a good guideline for grown-ups, too?)
- Limit your e-mail and Facebook ritual to once a day or even less!
- No cell phones or handheld devices at the table. (Eating out? Remember “Tic,Tac, Toe” and “Rock, Paper, Scissors”?)
- Press “pause” when someone is speaking to you, so you can look at each other. (I hate giving instructions or goodbye kisses to a zombie…)
- Don’t let your child/ teen have a Facebook account.
- Charge and keep kids’ small computers in your room, so you have control over when and where they use them. Charge your teen’s phone and computer in your room at night (so they will sleep instead of surfing or texting).
Technology is a part of everyone’s lives and families, but I just don’t want it to be a full-fledged member of the family – always riding in the car with us, sitting at the dinner table, sitting on the couch with us, even sleeping in our beds! Maybe technology can be more of an “invited guest”, present only when we welcome him, and on our terms. Not the screaming, buzzing, flashing, vibrating newborn, constantly demanding our attention and energy and interrupting our tasks, our sleep, and our other family interactions. A newborn is supposed to overturn our lives and call the shots in the family for a while; a device should not.
(Interested in one of those two books I recommended? Please click on the Amazon link through my homepage if you buy one, so that I get a few pennies to help pay my babysitter!)