It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I am in the house washing dishes. I just kissed my husband and oldest son goodbye as they headed to the baseball field. My younger three children are in the front yard, squirting each other with the hose and squealing with joy.
Basically, it feels a lot like 1984 in our house today, except we eat balsamic reduction on our food and the kids are slathered with sunscreen.
We work hard to keep it like this.
The more we read and learn about the effects of too much tv and the addictive nature of social media and video games, the more we shove it out of our lives with passionate commitment.
Media consumption is one of the battlegrounds where our choices build the values and structure of our family. We are choosing things like books and play-doh, card games and domino tournaments, sprinklers and foosball in the garage, and the wonderful art of actual conversation in the car and at restaurant tables.
The results of these choices are simple: intentional time focused on each other makes us all happier and more whole as people.
My daughter told me all about the mean girl at the YMCA while we drove to Starbucks the other day. Five year olds navigate complex relational worlds, and they need help sorting out solutions.
Just yesterday I found out exactly how my son feels about girls on the drive to church. I won’t tell you what he said, but I’ll sum up my reaction in one word: Shocking.
Yes, my kids would like to play more Minecraft.
Sure, they wish they all had their own iPhones.
Absolutely, if I put Frozen and the Lego Movie on repeat in the playroom the house would be cleaner, I would be more productive, and life would be easier.
But the thing is, life wouldn’t be better.
I refuse to let my goal be having an easier life. I want a good life, rich with muddy footprints, lessons in cleaning up after you’re finished with something, and the sharing of deep thoughts that only come from exposure to books and ideas beyond our home, our era, and our own experiences.
So we tell our kids that video games are for special occasions and occasional indulgences. And then we engage in life with them.
In our house, cell phones are in the same category as cars and dating and kissing and miniskirts and mascara: for much later in life when you’re not a kid any longer.
We are crazy and weird, I know this. But you know what? We are also a happy, tight-knit crew.
Here are a few of the strategies we use to lessen of the tug of the digital age on our lives:
1. Go off the grid for the day. Some days I leave the my phone at home and the kids and I hit the library, the park, or the grocery store. It is a glorious life in vibrant technicolor out there with no one to interact with except the four little people I love most in life.
2. Delete all games on all of our phones. No one asks to play games that don’t exist. We sit and read or talk or actually exercise our patience at doctor’s offices, car washes, and restaurants.
3. Make it our goal to keep the tv off. When I begin to consider a movie as a savior from the chaos, I check myself. What other options are there? How else could we solve the problem? I never regret choosing another tactic.
4. Keep an open dialogue. I tell my kids about the research connecting depression in kids to video games. We talk about my own struggle to ignore texts and notifications throughout the day. I’m open about why I leave my phone far away where it won’t disturb us. What is happening here in our home is infinitely better and more important than what is happening in cyberspace. If my children ever feel otherwise, the line of communication is open for them to tell me so.
5. Clear media boundaries. My kids get 30 minutes of media time on Saturdays. They choose how they use that time. They can watch tv or play on the iPad. Recently we have faced the issue of other kids with gaming devices at baseball games and church. My kids will sit and watch other people play for hours. I asked them about it, and they said it wasn’t really fun, but they couldn’t help it. When I told them that screen time would count as their own, they amazingly found the willpower to go and play with their other friends instead. Our kids are stronger than we think. Sometimes they just need a little nudge in the right direction.
What about you? How does your family minimize screens and engage?