Growing up, I remember playing outside all the time. I’m sure I played indoors a lot too, but the funny thing is, I have limited memories of those play times spent indoors. What I do remember quite vividly is building my own treehouse with the help of my kid sister. Finding Easter eggs in the sandbox months after the holiday passed. Picking wild blackberries in mid-summer wearing full winter clothing as protection from the briars. Riding big wheels and bicycles up and down the driveway. Catching lightening bugs barefoot on the front lawn. Playing outside for hours and hours with the kids next door.
I know that I sometimes idealize my parents, portraying that they were perfect when it came to raising me and my siblings. Now that I’m a parent, I know this isn’t the case because parenting is hard and kids test your patience and sanity almost daily. But now that I have perspective, I respect them all the more for my upbringing.
I understand now why my mom watered down our Koolaid amid whining protests. I understand why we only had basic cable. I understand why we were only allowed 30 minutes of TV in the summertime only after we had completed our list of chores. I understand why my mom made us apologize with “I’m sorry” instead of just a sassy “sorry.” I understand why she packed picnic lunches for the ride to the beach instead of stopping at fast food restaurants. I understand why my parents made us run laps at the rest stops on car trips. I understand why they made us pick weeds from the front flower beds and cut the grass on the weekends. I understand why we travelled to a state park to spend the weekend outdoors with 10 other church families twice a year for 18 years. I understand why it seemed like my curfew was earlier than every other teenage girl I knew. I understand why we took a family hike every Thanksgiving day that we weren’t out of town visiting extended family.
Now that I’m a parent, the reasoning behind my parents’ actions is beginning to dawn on me, as I struggle to be the best mom I can be to my kids. Despite the quick glance of all the happy baby faces that I post to Instagram, my kids really aren’t any different than any other kids. They get fussy, tired and sick. They throw tantrums and cry and scream when they don’t get their way. They hit, bite and pester each other. They disobey, disrespect and disregard authority.
But I’ve found a simple solution to all these issues that works roughly 99% of the time (after disciplinary action, if appropriate). After a quick prayer for patience and wisdom for me, I simply take my kids outside. The outdoors perks up my tired kid. It gives fresh air and energy to my sick kid. It distracts my tantrum-throwing kid. It separates my fighting kids. And it gives freedom to my independent-minded kid. Sometimes, it really is just as simple as stepping out the front door.
There’s a recent video by Nature Valley that is circulating, and it raises valid concerns for today’s parents. Technology has advanced so much in the past few decades since my upbringing. Facets of life are so much easier and convenient because we are better connected. At the same time, today’s technology has made it easier to keep our kids entertained and at bay with the least effort possible. I know, because I too have used technology as a babysitter for the Rowdy boys so I can feed the baby without being interrupted. And I use it most every weeknight to distract the boys so I can make them dinner since it’s one mom vs. three kids during the witching hour.
And as much as I’d love to claim that my kids rarely use technology, I don’t think that’s the right answer for their upbringing. In two decades, when they face the job market and branch out on their own, they will likely end up in a job that uses technology. After all, I did.
But what I hope to show them throughout their childhood is that technology is just a supplement to a well-rounded life. I want them to understand how we use technology to connect and collaborate with others, to learn new ideas and dig deeper in subjects of interest, to help and bless others and to make processes more efficient.
But I don’t want them to believe that technology is their world. I don’t want them to learn Spanish solely from an app. I don’t want them to learn their ABCs predominantly from a cartoon. I don’t want them to gather their morals from a popular TV show. I don’t want them to value online social interactions above real-life interactions.
I don’t want technology to raise my children.
I hope to raise my kids with the mindset that the best life is lived outdoors, exploring and interacting with nature. I hope I can show them that technology is simply a supplement to all the creations they are discovering on their own. I hope that when they have the decision to play outside or watch TV, they will choose the outdoors.
And as a parent, I pray that I will do a better job of leading by example. I pray that I put away the smartphone–even when I’m just using it to take photos–and live in the moment more. I pray that I remember that having technology at my fingertips doesn’t mean I have to respond to emails and texts right away. I pray that I can manage my time better so that I complete my online tasks when they are sleeping.
In many ways, today’s world is much different than the one that I was raised in, but core values are passed down from generation to generation, and not via technology. By example, I have to show my kids what matters in this life. They need to see that man made the technology; technology doesn’t make the man.