Yesterday I challenged Sandy to pull the plug on television, the internet, video games and cell phones of each of her four kids, for a few hours every day this summer. I watched two feelings wash over her face: disappointment and guilt. I get it. I’m a Mom and I’ve felt the exhaustion of too little sleep and four bored kids hounding me to find them something to do. When our kids are bored, we feel like bad moms because we are supposed to be the circus director and social coordinators, right? As much as we don’t like to admit it, electronic gadgetry has given us a little reprieve. Let Big Bird take over for a while. He’s cuter and even teaches kids how to spell.
Pulling the plug feels in some why like we’re being reprimanded because when kids don’t have screens to watch, where do they look? To us- for help regarding what to do next. When we hear someone like me encouraging a media holiday we feel las though a bit of our down time has been yanked from beneath us. Now what are we going to do with them, we wonder? Therein lies the disappointment. But there’s also the guilt that rushes in. It is The Voice which reminds us that we shouldn’t be letting them watch so much in the first place. And it lets us know in no uncertain terms that good mothers don’t let their kids watch tv at all.
Whether we like it or not, electronics are in our kids’ lives to stay. So what we need to do is learn to navigate the landscape for our kids and control it. We must get the better of it rather than the other way around. Summer time is a perfect time to start. The weather is great (unless you live in Texas) and kids are excited to be out of school (which means they’re generally in better moods.) So take advantage of these and make a bold leap: lock up the electronics in your home for a few hours a day and see what happens. Get the kids outside and go with them. Watch what happens to the family dynamics. At first kids will belly ache until they resign themselves to the fact that you are serious. Then, as quickly as they started to complain, they’ll stop. They’ll actually start talking to one another and to you. They’ll make eye contact, make up games and learn whether or not it pays to cheat at Go Fish. And if your kids fight a lot now, the best way to help them stop fighting is to have them spend more time together talking, swimming, camping or playing in the sand box.
Kids need what we need- more face to face time. They need to play and pretend, to boss and be bossed in order to figure out life. Most importantly, they need to engage life not be passive viewers of it. Nothing in the world replaces human contact and for kids, play is one of the best sources of it that they’ll find. So I issue a challenge to each of us very tired mothers: let’s schedule times during the day when electronics are off limits for our kids. And if you really want to have the best summer of your life- do the same for yourself. Put your Blackberry under the front seat of your car. Hide your laptop and put the cell phone on silent. And then watch what happens to your mood. You, too will go through withdrawal, but after the intial few pangs to turn them back on, life starts to change. We make fun happen, not just for the kids but for ourselves. Bikes come out of hiding, dirt gets tracked onto the living room carpet and peculiar games emerge with home made bubbles and coat hangers.
Life is too short for any of us to stare at our computers (that includes I-phones, laptops and, Blackberrys) and television so leave them for a few short hours every day. And I promise, as surely as I write this, that you’ll never regret any of the moments you unplugged. If you’re serious about bringing joy into your home this summer, I can think of no better way.