Put the screen down: How to unplug your plugged in family

This post has been rattling around in my mind for the better part of a year. I have felt convicted and then felt judgey.  I have felt all the feels and so I always went back to just not writing it, but here I am again, revisiting this because a Facebook friend inspired me with this post she wrote on her personal page this morning.

"We showed up early for an appointment yesterday. Another family was in the same room. The boy, about 8, on his DS. Each parent on their phones. To kill time, I taught the Ewok how to make a "cootie catcher" and we spent 20 minutes counting, spelling, reading "you get to vacuum your room!", "You are smart!", "You are a good friend" etc. Mainly we laughed. He kept looking over at the other family, trying to catch their eyes and engage them. None of them looked up, at him or each other.
I wanted to tell them to come out here with us. Be curious. Engage. Have fun. But I also know that if we had a kid that could have screens, we could've been them, at that moment."

This. It was this. I will say that I tend to fall in the camp of the more conservative when it comes to screen time. I have a background in child development and I truly believe that children learn what they live.

It's why when the kids were younger we were always on the go. Not every day, but most days we would head out to explore our world. Our world that day could have been the aisles of the grocery store or Target or the park down the street. I saw great value in my children learning from their surroundings. Find the yellow box on the grocery store shelf, count how many bananas are in the bunch, lets watch the bird build it's nest or the ant on the sidewalk.

It's why now at ages 17, 13 and 10, I think that they slow down to look. My oldest son loves to capture the beauty of the world in pictures. He's snapping sunsets and sunrises and everything in between. My daughter creates beauty with her hands {she's 100 times more crafty than I ever could hope to be!} and my youngest son and I will stop on our walk to school and look at the spiderweb covered in dew or take note of the changing leaves.

I won't tell you that every errand that we made when they were younger was like a trip with Mary Poppins, but we made up games in those aisles, we spent time together, we giggled and we held hands and now that my kids are older I don't regret taking the time to do those things with them because now I see the value in that time.

My husband and I decided early on to be intentional parents. To not just say we were doing the best that we could do with what we had, but to intentionally do the best that we could do.  To not just parent by the seat of our pants, but to plan and be prepared. 

As I mentioned, I walk to school with my son and as I meander back through the parent drop off line, I see car after car with parent in the front seat mindlessly scrolling through their phone while their kids look out the window behind them. No engagement, no conversation. This makes my heart hurt. These parents are dropping off their kids for six hours of separation from them and while I don't want to pretend to know what those parents are dealing with {perhaps they are making pick up arrangement for the afternoon, or supporting a friend in need}, but I tend to think that those five minutes of time while they wait for drop off is such an important time to connect with their kids and they are missing it.  

While I can't assume I know what's happening with the parent, I also can't assume that I know what's happening with the kid, Perhaps they are anxious for the day ahead. Maybe there is a kid who isn't being kind to them at recess or they have been having a hard time understanding math and they aren't feeling smart and they are mentally beating themselves up.

What about a having a picture book in the front seat to read together, or playing a game of I spy?

Like I said, I've thought about this post a lot. So I have vacillated in what my opinions are on this. As a parent, there is enough judgement out there without adding to it, but like I said, I've felt convicted of this. I spent some time thinking. If our kids are looking to us to be their example what example are we setting when we pick up a tablet or our phone and start scrolling anytime we get bored?  Are they learning that when they get bored they grab a screen to occupy them?

Boredom in the 21st century looks like being unengaged.

I love this little experiment that this mom did.  She sat down across from her kids when they were playing and instead of checking her phone, she kept a tally of how many times her kids looked up to her for approval or to show her their tricks {28}. Times she would have otherwise missed because she was busy and looking down herself. 

Friends, our kids are looking up to us for how to behave. They are learning how to adult from us. They are learning how to navigate the scary waters of life from us. Are we teaching them well? 

Are we teaching them to fold into themselves and sit behind a screen or are we teaching them to engage? Are we making our kids compete with our iphones for attention? Are we being the parents that we want to be or are we falling into default parenting mode because we are too distracted with our own screens?

I'm challenging us to be intentional. I've fallen into the trap myself. Let's not use screens as the easy way out. 

Being bored isn't a bad thing. I find that if I allow my kids the chance to be bored they usually come up with something creative to do not too long after. Don't take away the chance for them to be creative. And parents, the same goes for you.

Instead of reaching for your phone to read through your Facebook feed, reach for a book instead. Be the example you want your kids to follow. I would much rather see my kids getting into the habit of grabbing a book and snuggling up on the couch than seeing them grab a tablet and scrolling mindlessly.

Teach your kids games that you played when you were younger. MASH, cootie catchers, and paper folding stars are great places to start. Consider having a day without any electronics. Play board games, bake in the kitchen, make memories. Ask your kids questions, write a story together, read a book out loud.

It's worth investing the time. It's worth changing our behavior. Our kids are worth it. Let's unplug, just for a bit so that we can plug back into the things that really matter.

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