I remember the days when my kids were little. Trying to get things done in the midst of chaos and feeling like I was constantly “on” was exhausting. Laundry to be done, a house to be cleaned, children to feed and care for, the tasks were endless. I wrote a bit about this in my “Embracing the Chaos” blog a while back. I remember allowing them to watch a show so I could complete what I needed to do. It gave me a much needed break to achieve my goal. Having a distraction for the kids, especially when they’re little, is certainly necessary and sometimes your saving grace. But how much is too much, and when should we draw a line in the sand??
Last weekend was Mother’s Day. I don’t know about you, but it seems that it usually ends up being a pretty busy weekend. I dream of relaxing with nothing to do, but that is rarely the case. My youngest son had a baseball tournament. I absolutely love to watch him play! He played many games in the heat and dust, and watching him do what he loves is incredible. Not exactly a relaxing spa-like retreat, but I tried to appreciate it none-the-less. As I sat and watched the many games, I made a lot of observations. One observation that I made, and continually make in my constant interaction as a teacher of so many years, is that many kids can no longer sit anywhere without being completely stimulated.
We ate several meals out, we watched the games, we went to the store, and the common theme was that there were tons of kids out with mom for Mother’s Day. But no matter where we went we saw kids on ipads, iphones, tablets, kindles, and every kind of device imaginable. The problem I saw first and foremost was no one was talking. No one was engaged in conversation. Everyone was distracted. We have a rule that no electronics are allowed at meals, or any time that we are together as a family. It’s a good rule. It allows us to connect. Now this doesn’t mean that my kids aren’t on devices too much. At times they are. It doesn’t mean that I’m not on my phone too much, because I know I am. But something that I have noticed more and more is that many kids cannot sit still for any specified amount of time without completely losing it. The final straw for me was being out to dinner and I observed forced screen time on a toddler when he just wanted to engage.
My husband, my oldest son, and I were having dinner the other evening after church. We were sitting at a local restaurant on the patio, enjoying the beautiful weather, and each other’s company. Music was playing over the speaker, we were talking and laughing, and it was wonderful. But then it went south! The first thing that occurred was two boys, probably 9-11 years of age, kept running though the patio. Both kept going behind my chair, which had maybe an eight inch clearance between the back of my chair and patio railing. It was crazy. Finally I said to the boy, “please stop running behind my chair.” I know he thought I was a crabby old lady, but it was unbelievable to me that their parents didn’t see any issue with them running through the patio with people sitting and eating as couples and families.
The second observation I made was about a couple that came in with their son who looked to be just shy of two. He was so darling, He was smiling and playing with some little john deere tractors and seemingly having fun. The three of us smiled and waved at him and enjoyed his sweetness. However, he started to get just a little bit restless and out came mom’s phone. “Here watch a show!” Our lovely outing was all of the sudden inundated with the sound of a TV show. It was so loud we no longer could hear the music playing, let alone have a conversation. I was dumbfounded. Couldn’t they hear how loud the sound was? Couldn’t they see that it was disrupting other patrons? The worst part of all was that the little boy at one point didn’t want to watch and the parents kept saying, “don’t you want to watch? Just watch your show!” I’m not saying that parents don’t need a break, we do, no matter the age of our children. I’m not even suggesting that sometimes those devices aren’t necessary. But when is it time to call it quits?
All I could think about was how quickly my children have grown up. All I could think was “hey mom and dad you’re totally missing out on this precious moment with your sweet baby!” Wake up. Put the phone away. You’re going to blink and he will be off with friends. There I sat with only one of my three, missing the other two! Time does not slow down! The constant distraction of devices invading our lives causes us to miss precious moments. I have seen little ones yelling mom or dad over and over again as they scroll on their phones totally oblivious to what is happening around them. This happens at the park, at the pool, at the children’s museum, and in their own yard. We are living in a world of total distraction and over-stimulation.
Recently, another thing I’ve noticed is that younger students coming to theatre performances of my high school students can no longer sit through even a twenty minute show. They have no ability to focus. I believe this is directly related to the fact that we no longer require our children to go anywhere and simply be present. We don’t make them sit at restaurants and learn to behave without devices. We don’t take them to the wonderful free concerts in the park. We don’t take walks and explore. We distract, we put off, and we ignore. Now I realize that this is not everyone, so don’t start yelling at me just yet. But I think what we are forgetting is that boredom fosters creativity. When you allow children to be bored, they come up with a way to distract themselves. They CREATE! They build forts, they make up songs, they draw pictures, they discover things in nature. Boredom is good!! And not only is it good, it is a key to fostering independence and positive behaviors. It allows them to learn to sit quietly without having to stare at a screen.
Even for adults, when we put down our devices, we engage. We truly SEE what’s happening with those around us. We don’t miss the important moments that will only be here for a split second. We also become more creative. I challenged myself a while back to put down the phone and what happened was I sat down and wrote a song for the first time in forever. It flowed out of me like water from a faucet. I was amazed. To think that that had been sitting in my head all that time but I was too distracted to see it, blew my mind! We are all guilty. I am guilty. But can’t we be better? Can’t we make a pact? Challenge yourself to put down the device. Challenge yourself to deal with the restless behavior of the kiddos even though it’s tough. Help them learn to behave without the distraction of electronics. Although the electronics debate may hit a nerve with some of you, I feel like we can engage much more effectively.
Summer is upon us. Take a bike ride, sit outside, take a swim, listen to some great music, read a good book, catch some fireflies, and put the devices down. Let yourself get really bored. You never know what incredible ideas may be hiding in that pretty little head of yours, and you never know what’s waiting to come out of those creative, capable little people sitting right in front of you! Peace and that’s my dish!