From mobile apps to video gaming, my biggest parenting challenge is to keep my kids unplugged from their virtual worlds long enough to enjoy the real one.
While smart phones and tablets make life more entertaining, over use can keep you from real life experiences. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,
Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.
Like everything else in life, moderation is key. My approach toward my kids and media is the same approach I use with most of the things my kids are into. Delighted curiosity, followed by, dedicated research and finally, appropriate limits and boundaries.
Media and technology can be a healthy outlet for kids to explore the world around them and their place in it. But, there is an actual world out there, full of possibilities for my family. And I realized, no matter how interesting that video on YouTube seems to my kid, I will always be their favorite source of entertainment.
It was that realization that I clung to, like a thirsty man to a pint, when I decided to accept the challenge of keeping my household from being over run by machines. Here’s what I learned:
1. Practice what you preach.
If you are asking your kids to give media a break, expect to lead by example. My kids watch me way more intently than they actually listen to me. If I’m walking around with my nose in my phone (and I’ll admit, I’m guilty as charged) how can I expect my kids not to? So I put down my phone/tablet/laptop/remote control so I could be in the moment. I’m unattached and more approachable to my kids and I get a few moments to meditate on the wonders of life outside of Facebook & Twitter.
2. Create “Tech free zones.”
In my home there is no technology allowed at the dinner table or in the bedrooms. No one has a television in their room, no one is allowed to charge their phones upstairs. These spaces are designated “Tech free zones” and I am grateful for the parameters. When my kids are over tired, sick or in need of some quiet time, they know where to go to find it and in a household of seven this is essential.
3. Make plans together.
When you live together, life can become routine and predictable. If you find yourself refreshing your twitter feed non-stop, chances are your kids are finally sick of that YouTube video too. Make plans together and have something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Disney world. Make ice cream floats or take a walk or bicycle ride in the park. Remember, it will only be as exciting as you make it, so get into it and make a memory!
4. Literally unplug
As my kids grow up, they stop wanting to be smothered all the time. I assumed this also meant they didn’t want to hangout with me anymore. This isn’t true, they do want to hang out with me but they just don’t want to be babied (as a Smother, this is a difficult concept for me). When the power went out in our home last summer and we were scratching our heads and wondering how long this outage would last, my youngest daughter said “Wanna play a board game?” Which we did and it was fun. When we were forced to unplug, we remembered how much fun we could have together not doing much of anything. I found out my kids still think I’m cool, so, now we have “power out play time” because good old fashion fun is just good old fashion fun!
5. Start a family book club.
Take a trip to your local library or book store and find a book to read as a family. If you have a household of strong readers, everyone can get a copy of the book. Pick a family night – set the pace of reading – and then meet every week to discuss the progress. If you have a household like mine with many children of different ages, pick a book and set aside time every night to read from it. Any of the classics would be great, my kids love Alice and Wonderland. It is really important to me that my kids learn how to entertain themselves from within. My fear is that being too dependent on media and technology for entertainment may prevent them from plugging into their imaginations. Books are the perfect remedy to that!
Helping your kids unplug will remind them of all the other ways they can find stimulation and entertainment outside of the streaming media on their phones and tablets. It also helps them put their media experiences in the right perspective, as just one of many other sources that help them make up their minds about the world around them.
I know I am not the only parent taking on this challenge. How do you help your family unplug and have more quality time? Is there anything you would add to this list? Leave me your suggestions in the comments below.