Updated: Jul 6, 2018
Computers, internet, iPads, TV's, video games, smart phones: in this digital age, we are immersed in technology. Over time, my family has evolved from watching TV every night and playing frequent video games as a young married couple to now making limited use of these devices in our family hours.
Why I Limit Technology
Zombie Effect: My husband and I learned early on that watching TV could turn our toddler daughter into a zombie who became utterly zoned out and would not even answer if spoken to. I confess that I did use this to my advantage sometimes; on nights when I wasn't able to give as much attention as she needed, I would let my daughter watch TV (usually Signing Time or Curious Buddies) while I made dinner.
Tantrums: My son did not experience the Zombie Effect, but instead, whenever he was not allowed to watch TV or use the iPad, he would start screaming and throw a fit (and of course we did not give in to this behavior, but it persisted nonetheless).
Addiction: “Can I play on the iPad?” “Can I watch a video?” “When can I...?” Even though they were never allowed to use technology to any large degree, my children were still easily pulled into the addiction cycle of wanting to do it more and more. I, myself, have also struggled with feeling compelled to use the internet, e-mail, and Facebook far more than I know is good for myself and my family.
Better Things To Do: To me, with the exception of work, use of technology is by-and-large a waste of time. (My husband would disagree with this sentiment.) There are so many more enriching activities that I and my children could do than sit in front of a screen (even if it is "educational"). Playing outside, reading a good book, building a fort in the living room: these are the things I want my children to remember about their childhoods.
Lack of Boredom: Often, technology is used to rid us of boredom, but I think boredom is actually a good thing. Boredom is what leads my children to find new ways to play, to use their creativity, to pick up a new book to read. Boredom leads to innovation.
Our Technology Uses and Limitations
Every family must decide what works best individually, and I am not professing to know the “right” way to balance use of technology. But I do know what is working well for us right now with a 7-&1/2-year-old daughter and nearly 5-year old son. My husband looks at me like I have a 3rd eye when I say that, if it was up to me, we would get rid of our TV and any video game devices altogether.
No TV, iPad, or video games when Dad is not home - This rule alone ensures that for nearly 50 hours a week, I am not hearing anyone ask to use a screen.
No smart phone for myself - I think a smart phone would be like a black hole for me that I would get sucked into and have a hard time getting out of.
No computer/internet usage for myself on Saturdays - This allows me to unplug for one day each week.
No Facebook for myself most of the time - I find Facebook to be particularly addicting, so I limit my usage of it. Over time, I tend to use it more and more (especially the TJED Facebook Group), so periodically I will refrain altogether for at least a month to break the addiction cycle.
Pandora radio or music CD's - We all enjoy listening to music and I don't restrict its usage.
Family movie night - On Saturday nights, we watch one movie together as a family. We all take turns choosing the movie each week.
Video/computer games for children once a week for 25 minutes - My children usually play their video games after Dad comes home from work on Friday. This includes "educational" apps and games (such as Starfall), drawing/painting on the computer, and mindless games such as Mario Kart. Any whining or complaining about video games results in a suspension of this privilege.
Audio books during Daily Quiet Time - Both of my children may listen to audio books of classic literature (such as At the Back of the North Wind and My Father's Dragon), which I have downloaded for free from Librivox. I love that my children typically engage in other activities such as drawing or coloring while they listen.
Occasional computer usage for school - We occasionally use the computer for school-related tasks. For instance, if my daughter wants to type a story, she may. And we use it for entering our bird-watching stats on ebird.org or feederwatch.org (through which my daughter is learning to make scientific observations).
Dad's gaming - Since most of my husband's friends do not live nearby, for a few hours a week he meets up with them for online gaming. My husband also often likes to do some gaming as a way to unwind after work.
Mom's work - Obviously I also use the computer for work (blogging, writing articles for Real Food and Health Magazine, and working on homeopathic cases).
E-mail and general internet usage - Both my husband and I also use the computer for checking e-mail and various internet tasks (such as paying bills, shopping, etc.) This is done in a mindful way so that it is minimally interruptive of our family life.
Putting It Into Practice and Reaping the Benefits of Limited Technology
I have observed significant benefits over the years as our use of technology has diminished more and more.
Self-Sufficiency When I first started working as a homeopath from home (which is mostly accomplished by phone since many of my patients live far from here), I was very tempted to use the TV as an electronic babysitter. I worried what my children would do while I was working, whether they would disrupt me, how they would deal with being unsupervised. I resisted using the TV because I knew that, once I did, I would have a very hard time stopping the cycle of watch-TV-while-mom-is-working.
Fortunately, I read Peter Gray's inspiring book, Free to Learn, and that gave me the confidence to let my children learn how to be on their own while I worked without using technology as a babysitter. The results have been fantastic: my children have learned how to play on their own and take care of themselves while I work. Yes, there have been a few hiccups in the process, and yes, I do remind the children before any long appointments that they are expected to play nicely, share well, and separate from each other if there are any issues. But now my children don't just take care of themselves while I work, they are thriving in being able to do so. They come up with elaborate games to play, they have tea parties, they read books together. They have learned self-sufficiency!
Better Behavior Less usage of technology in our home has led to better behavior over time. There are no more tantrums or whining about watching videos or playing video games. (Constitutional homeopathic treatment deserves a large amount of the credit as well, since it has made my children much more stable emotionally.) Part of what has worked for us is a zero-tolerance policy regarding bad behavior related to technology. For instance, whining about not being able to play video games as long as a child wants to leads to not being allowed to play video games at all for a period. I have also intentionally educated my children about why we are limiting videos and screen-time in general, so that they can make wise choices in the future.
Spending More Time Together, Fully Engaged Limiting my own use of technology allows me to spend more quality time with my children instead of giving them the half-attention they receive when I am on the computer. Without relying on technology to entertain us, my family is able to spend more quality time together. We read and discuss books together, play games together, work together in the house and yard. These shared times allow us to grow as a family, and to increase the strength of our relationships.
Less Need for Entertainment The less technology we use, the less we want to use. Initially there was some resistance to changing our use of technology; yet over time I have seen that our desire for electronic entertainment has diminished. Because we so infrequently consume videos and video games, my children just play and learn without even asking to use those devices. Certainly, they enjoy our once-a-week movie night and video game time, but outside of those times the children just know how to be, how to play, how to explore naturally. They don't need electronic entertainment because they know how to entertain themselves in ways that involve creativity and learning.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I'm sure that, over time, we will continue to refine the use of technology on our home. What is working now may not work as well in five years. But for now, we are content with the boundaries and allowances that we've put into place.
Do you have any limitations on technology in your home? What is working for you and your family?
This post is part of Thoughtful Thursdays!
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