There are a thousand thousand reasons to love this life, everyone of them sufficient.
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Most everyone in southeastern Virginia is watching for the leaves to begin browning around their edges and preparing to fall into our yards as we start settling into new autumn routines and daylight rhythms. This is one of the things I love most about Virginia. We have such beautiful changes of seasons. I have grown to really appreciate the turn and the tilt of the earth as we move from summer’s extreme heat to winter’s blistering cold year after year. Our home life has turned away from the traveling, leisure, and late evenings of summer and is now more focused on new house projects, routines, and instruction. The beginnings of turning inward and spending more time in our minds reading, practicing, learning, and creating always start in the fall, continuing through the deep winter when we’re all tucked tight inside, hibernating. After the busyness of spring and summer, this time of year is always welcomed. This is actually the first time that we’ve put our older boys into any after school activities. They started both cub scouts and piano lessons this year. I’ve always been wary of over scheduling my children and structuring play out of their lives, but this feels slow paced and reasonable for our family. It also makes them seem older to me, which is a welcomed gift.
I’ve been watching my oldest son, Myles, a lot recently. He’s 7 and in second grade, quickly growing out of the innocence of young childhood and into an older child, rounding the corner into adolescence. Sometimes it’s tough watching him lose his innocence and navigate the world. This age is a particularly awkward as he gains more social awareness, constructs his peers and the world into hierarchies, and is yet still so clumsy and emotionally fragile. I can only imagine that it will become more and more difficult as he continues to grow up and we navigate through my and Jason’s parenting. We all have lots of learning to do, and still more failures and successes to accumulate over the years.
The most recent topic that we are navigating through is our children’s use of digital technology. As they all get older their love for and immersion in so much technology is always a struggle for me. It’s something that we try to monitor and keep boundaries around, but often it almost feels like an impossible battle. And what are we fighting? At times it seems so benign and harmless. They love to play Minecraft and watch YouTube. It’s what they enjoy. And yet, so quickly it becomes all that they want or know how to do. I find that they even become more agitated and bored the more that they are connected to their games and television. When it’s turned off they pace around the house, become agitated at each other, and oh, do they whine. It’s as if they forget how to play and use their imaginations. They need something to stimulate their brains and flash across their eyes in order for them to function and participate in the world. And obviously, this concerns me. There’s a slew of research out that argues against so much digital technology for our kids. But there’s also a slew of research that supports it. Some would even probably argue that our world is becoming increasingly more digital so we should all rethink and restructure how and what we consider to be normal social interaction and play. Though, I do become wary when my children, and myself, need constant stimulus to function and interact with people.
Since the summer’s heat has finally lost its grip around here, I’ve been pushing the boys outside every day. And wouldn’t you know, they have no idea what to do. Jason and I set up their micromachine trucks and soldiers outside in the dirt and rocks and showed them how to play, attempting to spark their imaginations. While it takes a few minutes, they finally latched on and began to play. But as soon as another kid comes outside, the same fight ensues trying to keep them outside. They all want to immediately go in and play on a tablet or watch YouTube. Then it’s a hoard of boys pestering you to go to someone else’s house and play the xBox.
Well, over the weekend I had enough. I went through our house and unplugged every television. I put away their Leap Pads. I took out the Wii. I banned Minecraft and all access to the laptop. For the sake of my sanity and the health of my kids. Do you know what happened? The world continued to spin into autumn and my boys played outside. They spent hours building Legos. They drew on construction paper. They played on the swing with their sister. When a kid came over that wanted to take them to their house to play video games I said NO. I put my foot down. Yes, they whined a little bit. Yes, it was harder parenting. But they got over it.
Somewhere along the way this no-shame, no-guilt, parenting culture has turned into a game of survival that often overlooks what’s best for our kids and families. Sure, I feed my kids frozen chicken nuggets and turn on the television when life gets out of control and hard, but it easily and increasingly morphs into our daily lives and routines. And then out of nowhere I have a brood of digital addicts who don’t want to leave the house. And for what? So that my life is easier? Parenting is easier when your kids are staring at a screen. But that doesn’t mean it’s what is best. At least not all of the time. That’s not to shame parents who do it! We’ve all been there. But we can encourage each other to press into parenting when it’s difficult. We can set rules, limits and boundaries that teach our children how to use their imaginations and interact with others in the physical world. That is, I guess, if you value the physical world. The world that has natural rhythms and cycles and is moving our family into fall. And we’re not going to miss it.