When we removed video games and other tech from our home, we wondered how our kids would spend their free-time. They had relished coming home from school and watching their shows or escaping into video game worlds. Now, they would have to figure out how to relax without the help of screens.
One of the first few days without tech, I offered to play a board game with them after school. They took me up on the offer, and we played for over an hour! Realizing that I might not be able to manage a board game everyday, I wondered what they would choose to do when left to their own devices? (Pardon the pun; there would be no devices!)
I had read, back when they were toddlers, that it was good to let kids get bored. Now, there are loads of articles suggesting that allowing kids to get bored will improve their creativity and psychological well-being, make them more motivated and more interesting, etc. I would think, and this has probably been written down somewhere, that allowing kids to get bored might also help them to become better problem solvers. The lack of structure during times of boredom suggests that mom and dad might not be hovering over their shoulders and that they may have to figure out how to do something on their own. Hopefully, this does not involve learning to scale the house and jump off the roof, which is something I can picture my youngest son trying, but perhaps to pour their own glass of water or peel their own banana. These are big things in the land of little kids!
But, what have the kids been doing since they have not had access to tech? Well, the truth is, they have gotten bored at times. In some of these moments, they have thrown little fits or gotten into things we would rather they not get into. Other times, they have done something creative or tried something new.
What have they been doing?
My oldest son has made origami. He had a project for school where they had to make something to trade, and he decided he would make origami. This was not his first choice. At first, he was going to make a spear by sharpening a rock with a knife and attaching it to a piece of wood. After we told him he could not bring such a weapon into school, he decide origami was a better option. Origami is a kind of time consuming task, but, with a little extra free time and nothing else to do, my oldest son made snakes, frogs, and various birds from small pieces of brightly colored paper. He truly enjoyed spending the time folding and refolding and seeing the finished product. He had all of his contributions to the Trading Post done within a few days. Without tech as an option, he felt the freedom to create!
My youngest son has rediscovered his toys. His room is a HOT MESS right now. Lego is EVERYWHERE! Yesterday, PlayMobil guys were stationed in the doorway between my kitchen and dining room. Today, Army dudes are occupying the coffee table in the family room. It is OKAY! I would rather have toys in every room of my house than go back to having a clean house and wondering why my youngest son no longer plays with his toys. After we failed miserably at Christmas, by indulging in more tech than toys, I purchased a few new toys that I thought might jumpstart a new – old (given they used to play with toys all time) – way of being in our house. I discovered Fat Brain Toys and picked a few things designed for kids in my kids’ age ranges. I gave them each a few new things, and, since then, they have both been playing with all of the toys that had been collecting dust in their bedrooms as well as the new things I purchased. The change has been quite remarkable for my youngest son, who has rediscovered so many of his favorite things and why he loved them in the first place!
They have played outside in the snow. It seems almost unbelievable now, given all the rain we have had in the last few days, but only a week ago there was enough snow on the ground to build multiple snow forts in the front yard. Before we took away tech, my youngest son would only spend a certain amount of time outside of the house before coming back in to tell us he was cold or tired and needed a break. “Can I watch some TV?,” he would ask. I always felt slightly annoyed when the outdoor play-session only lasted 15 minutes before he was back to asking for tech. “No, not right now,” I’d say. Of course, that set the next tech-fight in motion. These days, with no option of doing tech, except for family movie nights, my youngest son is more content to spend the time building a snow fort. One day, he even shoveled the sidewalk!
They have enjoyed spending time with friends. We have had some interesting moments with friends. When they still had the option of tech, they would gravitate toward playing video games when friends came over. I found myself trying to stave off the tech until they played with toys or outside for at least an hour, but tech-time seemed inevitable. Friends came to expect some tech-time when they visited our house.
The first time one of my oldest son’s friends came over, and discovered there would be no tech, he just sort of stood around the basement wondering what they would do. He did not stay long. When this friend came over the next time, knowing ahead of time that tech was not an option, they all got on swimmingly and played with all sorts of toys for hours.
I had noticed, before we rid our home of tech, that my youngest son was not really capable of having friends over. Whenever a friend of his would come to visit, he would insist that they play video games. I would insist that they play mostly together and mostly with toys. Sometime that was okay. Other times, I think he just wanted his friend to leave so that he could engage with tech instead. What a good friend tech makes!
Lately, after removing tech as an option, my youngest son is much more content to play with his friends. They play with all of this toys. They have Nerf battles. They play with Legos. They create worlds with PlayMobil people. They get out the board games. They draw. They tell each other stories. They do all sorts of things they used to do before my little man got so enmeshed in tech.
What can I conclude?
I guess the most important thing that has come from removing the option of technology is removing tech as a barrier to other activities and relationships. I think my kids have been better playmates without tech. They get along better and play more together. They play better with their friends. It was getting to the point, before we got rid of tech, that my youngest son did not want to play with friends if there would be no tech involved. In a very short time, he has come around to the idea that playing with his brother and his friends and his toys is way more fun than zoning out with tech. Granted, he still asks for tech. And, he is certainly looking forward to Friday movie night. But, he is no longer demanding tech at all times of the day, everyday.
When we were riding home in the car from my oldest son’s soccer game the other day, my mom asked my youngest son, “Have you been feeling better since you have been taking a break from tech?” After a thoughtful few seconds, he quietly admitted, “I have been feeling better.” The proof is clearly in the pudding!