In a world where we become more and more dependent on technology, Doug Zeigler tries find an equilibrium between the real and online worlds for his children.
Many of my childhood memories were formed by being outside. I spent countless hours riding my bike, running around with my friends and cousins through our neighbors’ yards and the local playground. Fishing and camping with those same kids. Backyard football games and really unsafe bb gun fights. I spent all day outside as much as I possibly could. The only breaks I had were to run into my parents’ house and eat as much food as fast as I could, and I’d be out the door as fast as I came in. I rarely stayed still as soon as I woke up. I was the very definition of active. Even in my teens, I was involved in cross country and basketball and didn’t stop moving.
I didn’t have the luxury of all the distractions of today. Computers were in their very infancy, little more than word processors. Same for video games, although they were a great distraction on rainy and snowy days. There no iPods, iPads, Skype, smart phones, the internet, Nintendo DS, tiny portable video cameras, Xbox Live, Playstation network or any other means of electronic communication/game playing that instantly connected you with other people without leaving your couch. I’d like to think I’d have left those distractions behind and explored the outside world and all its nooks and crannies. But being a gamer myself, I understand the allure of escaping into the online world.
So what do we do as parents now? A part of me wants to adopt the policy my parents had which basically was “It’s nice out, get your asses outside!” That policy forced us to use our imaginations and come up with games we could play with all of our neighborhood kids or just by ourselves. As an adult, I’m really appreciative of that.
The benefits of all this technology can’t be dismissed. Our kids have relatives that live in other states, so things like Skype and silly online community games like Roblox are great for them keeping in touch with their cousins, aunts and uncles and even grandparents. Since only one of our kids is old enough to be responsible with a cell phone, texting hasn’t really been part of this reality very much. In my youth, contact with distant relatives would have been relegated to hand written letters, long distances calls and family get togethers. Now communication is cheap which gives utilizing these means even more appeal, which in turn makes us more sedentary.
There’s room for both of these ideals in our lives. What works for our household is limiting computer time and promoting outdoor play. We do allow exceptions for Skyping and texting, since that is a modern version of family time. This will be a constantly evolving process as more and more electronic advances occur and as our children become teenagers. It will be a challenge to balance it well, but we can keep an eye on new things and adjust for each of those when we have to. Each family should come up with a plan that works for their family and their needs. Thirty minutes per day on the computer is what we adhere to, but may not be feasible for your family. Perhaps it’s a chance to involve your kids in setting the parameters for online consumption.
With obesity rates in our country skyrocketing, especially for children, it is important that we encourage exercise and set the example for our kids. Diet plays a part too, but I know I didn’t have the greatest nutritionally valuable food when I was a kid, but I was so active that I was able to combat all of those calories. It comes down to moderation. We need to regulate time spent online and balance it with the real world.
The world is an enormous place. Technology has shrunk it considerably, but it can’t shrink the wonders of the real world. So let’s show our children just how huge our planet is with all five senses, while having an appreciation how small it is thanks to all of our advances as human beings. We are the stewards of wonder for our offspring; let’s explore all of it together with them.