Some of you are going to think I’m nuts, but so be it. We’re doing something extreme this summer, something pre-historic and archaic, something that will make most parents shudder…
We’re going media free!
Well… actually, we’ve always been.
You know how there are no-smoking zones? Our home is a no video-game zone. None. Zilch. Zero. The rule is, “If you want to play a video game, you’ve got to program it first.” We’ve got Scratch and Bitsbox. If my kids want to be creative on the computer, they can do so (after all their chores are done). But they have to be producers, not consumers. Programming time is limited to half an hour a day. Even so, my kids would rather just not. And (I hope you’re sitting!) we don’t own a T.V. or an iPad.
Sometimes being media free is very inconvenient. For example, when I’m at my son’s hockey games, the siblings of my son’s team mates are very well behaved. They quietly sit in the stands happily swiping away at their iPads. My little ones, however, are running circles around me. Literally. Giggling, laughing, yanking at my arms, running up and down the steps, they burn just as many calories as my son who is playing on the ice. Sometimes I am tempted to give them my phone and say, “Sit down and swipe like the other well-behaved children”. But then I remind myself that they are doing what children are supposed to do: laughing and playing.
Sometimes being media free is damaging to the house. One rainy day, Big Sis was playing lacrosse with Feisty in the basement and… strong girl… hard ball… BAM! Big hole in the wall. That would not have happened if they were playing lacrosse on the iPad.
Sometimes being media free is messy. Since my kids can’t play video games, what do they do? They go outside, have water fights, play pickle ball, and ride their bikes. Then, they come inside and drag in the dirt. Wet and muddy shoes everywhere are surrounded by grubby footprints. They go back out to play in the stream and catch frogs. “Mom, a frog just peed on Big Sis’ hand”. Gross. Time to stock up on hand sanitizers.
Now why do I deny myself the convenience of an e-sitter? Why must I endure children who run circles around me, gaping holes in the wall, and frogs that pee on my kids?
Why? Because I want my kids to have real childhoods. Not ones wasted on mind-numbing video games and demoralizing TV shows. My boys get cuts, bruises, and splinters from climbing trees and playing sports. They play real games with real kids. They do not have tendonitis from swiping iPads.
I want my kids to have real friendships with their siblings and friends, not virtual relationships made up of incessant texting and social media. My children talk on the phone with their cousins. They read to each other. They play and fight with each other. They learn to serve and to be empathetic. I have heard too many moms complain that all their daughters do in their free time is text their friends. These girls don’t even want to go and hang out with each other. They just want to text, even when they get heartbroken over nasty messages. What kind of friendship is that?
I want my children to learn how to deal with frustrations and disappointments. I don’t pacify them with e-opium (a.k.a. the screen). If Princess is taking a fit, I want her to learn how to overcome the emotion that’s driving it. I don’t distract her by giving her my phone. We deal with the issue, not escape from it.
I know there are times when we feel like we can’t cope. Sometimes we just need a break and we need to get our kids out of our hair. Sometimes life kicks us in the teeth and we need to go on survival mode, so we give our kids the screen. I get it. I’ve been there. But let’s hope those moments are the exception, not the norm. Anyway, for generations, parents have dealt with difficult situations without having resort to the e-sitter. Somehow they managed, and so can we, especially if our children are used to not having the screen as an option.
I am convinced that video games and excessive social media are to the mind what cigarette smoke is to the lungs. Both are addictive, and both wreak long-term damage. If you need proof, read Meg Meeker’s book Boys Should be Boys.
I do need medical proof. Observing my kids before and after they play video games is enough evidence. On the rare occasions that my boys play video games, I have noticed that after playing on the iPad, they seem to lose their ability to entertain themselves. Their usual enjoyments suddenly become flat and boring. All they want to do is play more video games. Watching TV is just as bad. Their bodies and minds, which were alert and active become passive and lazy. It’s not healthy or normal for a child to sit and stare at a screen for hours each day.
We need to encourage our children to be fully alive and to enjoy real life. When we tell our kids they can’t play video games or watch TV we’re not simply saying “no” to media. We’re giving a resounding “yes” to a real childhood. Yes to reading wonderful books, yes to developing interests and hobbies, yes to playing outside and enjoying the beautiful gift of nature.
Yes to developing the imagination. The imagination can be a child’s best friend, for a child with a wonderful imagination is rarely bored. I see this with my six-year-old Rascal. Give him a stick and it becomes a baseball bat, a bug-squasher, or a sword. He can happily entertain himself for hours with matchbox cars and lego. His imagination is robust and vivid because it has not been suffocated by video games and TV shows. Our little Princess is much the same.
And most importantly, yes to a life of prayer and contemplation. Even a child who is ill does not need to be constantly entertained by media. Let him be still with his thoughts, let him dream big dreams, let him be bored so he develops an inner life. St. Ignatius of Loyola underwent his great conversion while recovering from a battle wound because he was forced to lie in bed, read a few good books, and live with thoughts that led him to prayer. Do you think it would have happened if he spent his convalescence watching the Disney channel and playing video games?
Children need to be given many opportunities to just sit on a swing or lie in the grass and be alone with their thoughts. Those moments might look like laziness or boredom, but they can be the beginnings of contemplation. A child or adult who cannot bear inner stillness, who always needs to be swiping or clicking, will have great difficulty hearing the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. But a child who grows up with a real childhood graced by interior silence has a far greater chance of learning to pray. And prayer is the beginning of peace, wisdom, and love of God.
So, for the sake of my children, I put up with some inconveniences. But it gives me great joy to see them reading, playing, imagining, and dreaming, living the life of true, wholesome childhood. And during those beautiful moments when I catch them praying on their own, then I really know that the muddy floors, the holes in the wall, and the frog germs are well worth the trouble.
So what do you think? Would you go media-free too?