As a kid, I loved summer vacation. A break from school, who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to lay around, hang out with friends, hustle up some money making enterprise (door-to-door car waxing or bike repair, anyone?) and find ways to fill the time. Catch up on favorite authors? Yeah, that too.
Modern children fill up all their available time with electronics, however, and not only is there a lot of data to show that’s not great, it’s also something that you can see directly too: hours of TV, smartphone games, video games, etc don’t make for a happy, calm, relaxed child ready to jump into the next adventure. Instead, at least with my children, it leads to cranky, tired, somewhat addled children that are more likely to refuse a request to put down their device and more likely to yell and get upset than anything else.
Worse, there’s an expectation that if a parent’s not around to shepherd them into a healthy activity (yes, that’s a value judgment) that devices are the perfect thing to fill the available time, whether it’s 30 minutes or five hours.
Adding to this, each of my children’s social circles seems to have gradually diminished for reasons I’m not entirely clear on, and my youngest, 11, who used to be quite the social butterfly now seems to have exactly two friends she’ll hang out with, and one of ’em is incredibly flakey and unpredictable, leading to disappointment over a cancelled playdate more frequently than a successful opportunity to hang out together.
Add it all up and you get boredom. Long, mind-numbing periods of boredom, a Dad who actually needs to work so we have at least some minimal income, a brother who’s out of town, and an older sister who is on devices almost 24×7 between her online schoolwork, long-distance boyfriend and shrinking social circle. So what’s an 11yo to do? Yup, pick up the Nintendo 3DS or the iPod Touch and waste hours upon hours on addictive games that teach nothing, impart nothing and have no social element.
So our typical summer day now is me laying out parameters of when TV can be watched (apparently saying no TV during daylight hours is a shockingly cruel thing to do according to both of my girls), when devices can be played (earn the time, max an hour at a stretch) and an affirmation that shopping is not actually a good use of the time.
I looked forward to summer vacation as a time when I could do things that I couldn’t do during the school year. My children seem to look forward to it as a period when they can do nothing at all. Hmmm…
It’s no wonder that I am again reminded in these dog days of summer when it’s 95F outside that I don’t particularly like summer break as a parent. I’ll be very happy in a month when school kicks back in and there’s more structure in our lives. And I suspect I’m not alone in the parent (or child!) community…