“Play is the highest form of research.” ― Albert Einstein
We can’t seem to live without them.
And neither can some children, apparently.
In fact, in a study last October by the great resource site Common Sense Media, children 8 and under are using touch screens much, much more.
“Among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, from 8% of all families in 2011 to 40% in 2013. The percent of children with access to some type of “smart” mobile device at home (e.g., smartphone, tablet) has jumped from half (52%) to three-quarters (75%) of all children in just two years.”
My daughters, who are now 8 years old, got their first device for Christmas — a Kindle. And they share them with us, their parents. They are allowed ample time to use them but are also encouraged to do many other childhood things like read and climb trees and, gasp, be bored.
They actually prefer their limited screen-time, but often feel out-of-place when they see most other children doing nothing but staring at screens. This dynamic played out as they rode the bus to school this past year.
“A boy called you a drag,” my daughter said. “I got so mad at him.”
“Why did he call me a drag?” I asked.
Turns out, I’m a drag for enforcing screen-time rules that says no TV on school days. For the record, my girls have never found this rule to be a drag as they realize there’s just not enough time in our days to do all the amazing things we want to do — and watch TV. They are allowed minimal computer time on school days, though.
It seems, though, that rules for screens is becoming more and more rare.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see toddlers and preschoolers carrying around an iPad while waiting in restaurants, while riding in the car, while standing around in a park.
Is all this screen-time hurting our children’s brains? Is it delaying other developmental factors?
And, is all of this screen-time keeping them from doing other life-enriching activities that might actually benefit them much more in life?
I don’t think we’ll know the true affects of all this screen-time for many years and by then the damage will be done — and childhoods will be missed.
But one thing is for sure … there is nothing more magical than an unplugged childhood.
Regardless of how much screen time a child gets, as long as they are experiencing the real world around them and problem solving real life challenges then they are getting the best there is to offer in a childhood.
Consider this: What is most important? Knowing everything there is to know? Or experiencing everything there is to experience?
I’ll opt any day for my daughters to know what it feels like to stand in a pile of cool mud and feel the way it squishes between their toes or sit and read in a book high up in a tree. I’d much rather that they get out in the world and meet people who are not like them than learn about them through some app.
Because let’s face it, there will never be an app that gives you the feeling that cool mud feels when it piles between your toes.
“Technology and the latest apps are great, but real life is magical for children.” (Tweet this!)
So, what are some of the benefits of an unplugged childhood?
It’s one thing to play a game with a swipe of a finger online that allows you to dress up a figure or live in a virtual world. It’s quite another to actually dress up yourself or build a castle out of blocks. An app cannot replace the feeling of becoming someone else for a while or thinking you’ve build the most amazing parking garage.
Being artistic — truly creative — is not something an app can teach. An app doesn’t have messy glue and glitter. An app doesn’t leave a mess on the floor that requires negotiations to clean up. An app can’t be hung up on the refrigerator for all to see for weeks and months to come.
It’s painful to see people outside in the beautiful world staring at a screen. The fresh air and the world around us is worth waking up for and it’s also worth putting away a screen for so that we can at least remember that we’re a part of a bigger something. This kind of attention to nature and the natural world brings a state of clarity that we don’t get — that our children don’t get — when we’re staring at screens and reading and processing information all day long.
A love of the world
Taking care of pets on an app is fun but not as fun as walking the real dog next door. A magical childhood involves wonder and wandering, exploring and discovering. It involves getting to know the world around us and feeling connected to it.
Perhaps the most important of all for a childhood is feeling a part of a community. A real life community of neighbors and families and friends. But, even more than that, the mail carrier, the crossing guards, the store workers. Look up from your screens and you see faces and sparkling eyes and teeth smiling at you.
A childhood should be filled with long stories — both that they listen to and tell themselves. Stories don’t evolve from playing on devices. They evolve while walking through the woods or wading in a creek or climbing big mountains. Stories evolve when we take real risks and go on real adventures — even if it’s riding a scooter around the block and seeing two new friendly dogs.
Bouts of Boredom
The very best part of a magical childhood involves boredom. Space. Long bouts of time to just be. Time to relish a life of Savoring Slow. That’s when our most imaginative ideas come alive. That’s when stories are created. That’s when hopes and dreams spark and fly. That’s when we start to see a personality develop, a new idea come to life and a child grow up just a bit more.
Real-Life Problem Solving
It’s super easy to turn to screens to reduce or minimize the drama and tension and challenges inside a family unit. Siblings do bicker and fight and resorting to screens for that time out can be refreshing. But games and screens do not help them figure out how to get along better. Working out the problems will help them get along better. Setting goals and showing them new ways of being peaceful will help them get along better. An app is just a distraction. They need to know how to solve real-life problems.
Do you need to slow down and unplug?
Our children certainly aren’t the only ones with a screen problem.
There is this amazing concept called living that I’ve been promoting for a while now (three years, in fact.)
To be awake means leaving your iPhone in another room while you play Go Fish.
But, sometimes it’s hard because using our phones — and checking email and reading Facebook — have become habits we pick up when we finally do get a minute to rest.
Sometimes the only ounce of energy we have is to look at a screen and zone out for a while.
But that isn’t modeling what we want our children to do.
When we want to be present, playful and peaceful parents we have to be willing to do things differently, to set a good example and be the change we wish to see in our own family.
DISCUSS: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR YOUR CHILD? KNOWING AND HAVING AS MUCH KNOWLEDGE AS POSSIBLE OR HAVING MORE SPACE AND TIME TO EXPLORE AND EXPERIENCE THE WORLD AROUND THEM?