I didn’t grow up eating vegetables. Like, at all. So it took me a long time to really discover that I might actually like them, as well as the fact that even if I didn’t like something, it would still be worth eating. I think teaching our kids to survive without mobile devices to entertain them is much the same.
The parent go-to these days is often allowing kids to entertain themselves on devices so they can sit still and be quiet. I’ve done it, and you probably have too. On one hand, it seems like a practical solution. I remember a whole season of my life where I would think, “Why did I even try to come to this event?” after constantly shushing, feeding snacks, holding, scolding, and disciplining my rambunctious boys in the back of the room at a function. It felt pointless. So I admit, when I first got a smart phone that had game apps, my boys played on it a lot…after church, waiting for food at a restaurant, while I was trying to connect with a friend at the school, etc. But then I started noticing whole clusters of kids all huddled around my boys holding my phone. Like moths to a flame, kids flock to those glowing screens. I also noticed my boys asking to play on my phone a lot.
All of it just started to make me feel more and more uncomfortable with the idea. When I finally got a new iPhone, right around the time I started really needing it to run social media for work, I felt a deep resolve to end the trend we had accidentally begun. Then I had a very vivid dream that confirmed this conviction.
In the dream, my sweet 7-year-old boy was in the driver’s seat of a large SUV. I was behind him, in the back seat, explaining how to drive it. Before I was finished, he started the vehicle and pulled out into the street. I hadn’t really gotten to the part about where the break is and oh, by the way, you have to drive on the right side of the road. As we approached a busy intersection, I started to panic. I talked faster about how to find the break, and I even started lunging toward the wheel from the back seat in an effort to steer us to safety. I was too late. At full speed, a car broadsided us.
After the impact of the crash, everything was quiet—no crying or screaming. I don’t remember if I checked on my boy in the dream, but I do know he wasn’t moving or making a sound. As I opened my door to get out, the couple who hit us got out of their car too—then they began screaming at me in an unknown language. I started making excuses that it was my boy’s fault, not mine… he was driving, and he’s just so little, and he just didn’t know. The man interrupted me with a one-sentence exclamation in English, “You’re going to jail!” In the dream, it jarred me, and the truth of it instantly sunk in. Not only could my son not be okay, but the consequences of my mistake would effect my whole family, because I would most assuredly be charged with a crime.
That’s when I woke up. I reached for my journal and began documenting the dream. You may or may not understand or believe this, but as a Christian, I have heard God speak to me multiple times in my life through dreams. I knew this was from the Lord, and I wanted to understand what it meant.
This is what I believe God was showing me. My kids, your kids… kids in general… are not supposed to be driving this device extravaganza. They don’t understand the consequences, and they haven’t learned the wisdom needed to navigate the long-term effects of mass technology consumption/entertainment. We, the parents, are supposed to be in charge here, not frantically trying to instruct from the back seat while our kids drive recklessly into traffic. Kids aren’t going to put their own boundaries in place, that is up to us. It’s our responsibility.
After the dream, I began to say “no” when my kids would ask, “Can I play on your phone?” When they whined and asked why, I explained, “This is my phone. I use it to communicate with others, to do my job, and to find information when I need it.” It’s not for you, and I’m sorry I made you think that it was before.” That was met with some pretty sour attitudes for a while, but now they ask less and less. I try to be proactive by keeping art supplies, cards, and books at the ready if they really need something to keep them occupied.
My husband and I are pretty serious about raising kids who aren’t screenheads. I want them cheering for each other at football games, because that’s what families do. They can play Minecraft some other time. I want them engaging with other adults at family functions, because that teaches them valuable life and social skills. I want them playing with other friends in a way that actually has them interacting, not just staring into the magical glowing device. I want them reading books!
The other day I saw a family with four children at a local restaurant, all under the age of eight or so. While the dad ordered food at the counter, the mom helped each kid pull books out of a book bag. While they quietly read, she went to get the drinks and help get the food situated. The kids were completely content – this was obviously a routine they were accustomed to. I was so impressed I just had to say something to the mom. She smiled and thanked me, and then we locked eyes with a certain glimmer, as if to say, “I got your back sister… keep up the good work.”
A friend of mine recently told me how she was planning on getting the new iPhone 6 and would be passing her iPhone 5 to her two-year-old niece. I begged her not to do it. She legitimately was going to take everything off of it other than preschool games, so it’s not like the child would have access to anything dangerous. “But,” I said, “She’ll also never have a time in her life where she doesn’t remember NOT having a phone. Why not keep your old phone as a device with educational games and let your niece borrow it on occasion?” The difference is subtle, yet huge. It reminds that little girl that the adults in her life are driving.
When our kids were little, we felt very conscientious about introducing them to healthy food. We were hoping that they would naturally love carrots, broccoli, or salmon (when really, by their estimation, they could totally survive on Goldfish crackers and chocolate milk). Even though our kids still sometimes complain, we continue to this day to put veggies and lean proteins on their plate knowing that we are helping them establish healthy habits, and hoping that one day they will choose those things for themselves. We’re training their appetites. I tell my kids all the time, “You don’t have to love everything you eat. I don’t! But you can still eat it.” It’s a discipline we’re helping them develop.
The same is true of their appetite for screen time. It’s not that you can’t let your kids play on their devices in public, it’s just a matter of training them how to balance that part of life, as well as making sure they know how to engage and be interested in other people and situations happening around them. We can’t just default to device entertainment simply because it’s the path of least resistance.
And what about us as parents? Are we able to put our devices down in order to engage the world around us? I have to check myself on that all the time. After school, my boys often spend a few minutes on the playground playing football with their buddies. I could totally check Facebook, they wouldn’t care. But I also know that when I’m watching their game and I acknowledge a great catch they make with a “Way to go!” they acknowledge me with a smile or wave. It’s an awesome exchange that I really don’t want to miss.
So I’m trying to put down my devices more too. And realizing that it’s kinda like eating my carrots. I may not always feel like it, but I’m making a healthy choice that does still mean something in the grand scheme of life.