In a zombie movie it’s easy to identify who has been infected: they shamble, have a glassy look in their eyes and groan about their newly acquired taste for brains. But what if becoming a zombie was more subtle? What if the people around you could switch from living to undead with just barely any visible sign of the change?
In a lot of ways, that’s how I see modern always-connecting devices and our children. The vast majority don’t fall completely down Alice’s rabbit hole, but it’s astonishing to see how many children of all ages are glued to screens during every waking minute. Even vehicles now routinely promote individual TV screens with built-in games and connectivity to handheld devices, as if a child shouldn’t be expected to talk to their parent or read a book on the way to the market.
We live in an increasingly connected world and the devices on our wrists are now more powerful than the Apollo lander, so it’s no surprise that games have become staggeringly sophisticated and complicated. Now it’s MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) disguised as cute little dragon lands, mythic rural farms or similar benign games. But these game designers are a savvy lot, and I’ve more than once had a child entreat “can I have five minutes on my device? I need to check in every day to get this bonus…”
Worse is the toughest reality of parenting: Our children model their behavior on what we do, not what we say. It’s so easy to lecture, to tell them what they should be doing, but every child simply watches and models, so if you want your children to step away from the zombie light, you need to be able to do the same.
Get out. Do stuff!
Now don’t get me wrong, I am amazed and delighted by some of the new games and interactive media that are offering our children — and us parents! — whole new ways to experience the world, learn about different environments. My suburban 12yo daughter certainly has no real world experience managing a busy farm, for example, but Hay Day offers just that. I’m not a Luddite. Far from it!
And cooking. I’m in luck, my kids love cooking and creating things in the kitchen…
A healthy life is about balance in all things, and one of the most important for your children and their health and happiness is balance between the online, digital world and the offline world. You know, “IRL”, or in real life. I manage this with my daughter by having a few simple rules: no digital until homework is done, no chats or FaceTime unless she’s in a public space, and she earns device time by doing chores and being pleasant.
And one more important one: No television during school days. That applies to both of us, of course, so while I might watch an episode of Westworld or Game of Thrones after she goes to bed, our TV is off during the day and evenings. No discussion, no hassle, just the rules of the road.
Mostly it works really well, and we play cards, hang out, go for walks and cook together almost every night. Some afternoons she prefers her own company or time with our pets, and that’s great. Digital, online becomes a treat, a reward, something she looks forward to. And that’s as it should be.
And me too. No devices. Modeling right behavior…
The starting point for this essay was a discussion with the IKEA Foundation team. Turns out that the global furniture manufacturer IKEA has a foundation that is focused on quality of childhood throughout the world, funding education and health programs in the world’s poorest communities, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Jordan and Ethiopia. Those children can find happiness and accomplishment through IKEA Foundation supported programs including UNICEF, Room to Read, and Special Olympics.
IKEA has skin in this game too: the company sells toys, books and children’s play furniture that are a great addition to any child’s imaginative life. Even better, IKEA will donate $1 per applicable purchase to one of these organizations through the IKEA Foundation between November 20 and December 24. Win:win. Heck, my daughter has a huge photo of Paris at night on her wall that we acquired at IKEA. Paris. Where they do lots of completely analog cooking. 🙂
This campaign isn’t just to raise a few thousand dollars, either: The IKEA Foundation estimates that contributions plus monies raised through IKEA purchases have totaled $36 billion dollars, and that it’s benefited over 100 million children worldwide. That’s a lotta good.
Now, how about your household and your family? How much time do your children spend looking at screens, large or small? How much time online versus in imaginative play, either in their bedrooms or in a central play area? And what about you, dear parent? Are you modeling the behavior you’d like them to exhibit as they grow up or is your nose glued to your own little screen?
Disclosure: The IKEA Foundation sponsored this post. Opinions expressed, however, are my own.