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! That is, my kids are. 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 they 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 TV 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 i-pads. 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 iPad 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 followed by trails of dirt. They go back out to play in the stream and catch frogs. “Mom, a frog just peed on Big Sis’ hand.” Gross. Now I have to keep hand sanitzer in the house all year round, not just during flu season.
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. My boys get cuts, bruises, and splinters from climbing trees and getting hit by baseballs because they play real games. They do not have tendonitis from swiping i-pads.
I want my kids to have real friendships with their siblings, not virtual relationships made up of incessant texting and social media. My kids talk on the phone with their cousins. They read to each other. They play and fight with each other. They see and respond to real faces, not Facebook. 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 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 dreaming big dreams, 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 T.V. shows. Our little Princess is much the same.
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.
Mary Cooney is a homeschooling mother of five and former pianist living in Maryland. She blogs at Mercy for Marthas where this article was first published.