I spent a fair amount of time watching television as a kid. Yet when I look back, I don’t remember those times. What I remember about my childhood are the hours upon hours that I spent elbow to elbow with my brother and sister while we constructed a Lego city on a 10 X 5 wooden table that my dad made us. I remember swatting mosquitoes from my ankles as we picked bowls of blackberries on the bush outside of my bedroom window. I remember the late-into-the-night neighborhood games of Capture The Flag at the neighbor’s house.
I can picture the old shed that we turned into a clubhouse, holding meetings every week with the neighbor kids. I remember collecting bugs in the field behind our property, and returning home only when mom or dad would ring the large metal bell on our side deck. I remember roller blading all morning, exploring the trails by the pond all afternoon, and bike riding into the evening.
And I get it, even as I write out these memories—things are different now. Childhoods are not what they used to be. Many even say that they can’t be. And of course, this generation faces new threats, and we as parents must be aware and diligent to protect our children from danger.
I get it because I have quite a bit of a “Helicopter Mom” tendency. I had a difficult time letting my son go to camp for the first time this year….and it was only a morning camp; three hours a day. All three of my boys have “Just In Case” bracelets on their wrists with 3 emergency contact numbers. I cut grapes in half, outlaw playing with marbles when the baby is awake, and have a near panic attack if it takes me more than 3 seconds to locate them at the park when I’m doing the headcount. “One….Two……………..…” Yup. Panic attack.
I get the importance of keeping them safe in an uncertain world. It’s important that we are not ignorant of the threats our children face in today’s society. But what if by setting up extensive boundaries, we are cornering them into a box, one filled with “safe” activities such as screen time? In view of the 205 waking weeks on average that a child spends staring at a screen before they turn 18….I think this is one of those threats that we need to be aware of.
I want to protect my kids from the ugly of this world, while inspiring them to venture out to find the beauty in it. That way, when they are older and facing this world without my helicopter mom protection, they’ll have a storehouse of those memories and experiences to pull them through, and onto greater things.
Recounting the memories from my own childhood, I find myself nervous thinking about my own boys doing the same things. Ponds hold deep water, streets have cars, strangers can’t be trusted. But more than fear, I grieve. I grieve the loss of that kind of childhood. And I am determined to give my boys a childhood full of those “Hey, remember when….” adventures, all while knowing that the context may look a bit different now. But it is possible. And so very important.
It might just take a little bit of creativity on our end. What are some of your favorite adventures and memories from your own childhood, and how might they fit into a safe context for your son or daughter now? Perhaps it looks like hosting the Capture The Flag Tournaments in your own yard, or accompanying them on their nature explorations. It might take a little more work and time on your part, but I’ll bet it will also be one of their favorite gifts that you ever give to them–the gift of your time.
I have seen it in these past two weeks, as we’ve refocused our boys’ attentions off the screen, and onto more meaningful activities. At first, the task seemed daunting. With our older boy waking earlier in the mornings, and foregoing any nap time, I had 3 new hours in the day to fill his time. TV had become habit, and it was rubbing up against our family values and creating friction in my spirit. So I started saying No to the TV, and yes to their childhoods. And you know what? It has been So. Much. Easier. than I anticipated!
It ends up that kids want to create. It’s engrained into the fiber of their beings to imagine, explore, and problem solve. They want to be challenged, and to overcome. Their words may speak otherwise at first, but they want to be bored, because boredom often leads to the most grand adventures!
Those adventures might look differently today than they did for us, but they are there and waiting, if only we’ll provide the space, opportunity, and boredom to see them bloom.
So let’s do it. Let’s offer them the opportunity to have a childhood full of fireflies and bonfires and tree climbing and bike riding. Let’s reset our kids’ default back to its natural setting of exploration and wonder. In doing so, we are not pushing them towards something that’s not already a part of who they are. We just might need to help them dig a bit to rediscover it within themselves. It may be a whole lot easier than we think, and it could change their entire future…and the next generation.
This post is part of the #RedeemThe205 campaign, aimed at inspiring families to reclaim the 205 waking weeks on average that a child spends in front of a screen. It’s time to redeem childhoods and protect our families.