It was Saturday afternoon and the sun shone brightly in the sky. After so much rain recently, my children were excited to be outside enjoying the warmth on their backs. The windows were up and I could hear them playing with the neighborhood kids. Squeals of delight, shouts of “tag, you’re it!”, and the occasional squabble could be heard wafting on the gentle breeze that ruffled the curtains hanging over my windows. It is in moments like these that I smile knowing that my kids are having a great childhood. The memories they are making now will stay with them forever.
As I glanced out the window I could see the kids chasing the chickens. I smiled again and went about my chores. Underneath the window I heard the voice of one of my daughters. Her friend was over to play. I heard Anna, who is 10, say to her friend who is 9, “Please. Please, can you put away your phone? I thought you wanted to play.” Her friend responded, “But I just got my phone back. You know it was broken and I haven’t been able to use it.” Anna responded, “But we are outside. You know my mama doesn’t allow it in the yard and doesn’t allow us to sit and look at it with you. You can look at it later. Let’s play!”
I listened as they debated back and forth for a minute or two and then heard her friend say with a huge sigh, “Fine.” A few minutes later I looked out the window to see her friend going home. The draw of her phone was too much to keep her in the backyard running around with the other kids chasing chickens and playing tag. I felt very sad for her. To be honest, I felt very sad for all our children.
I understand when a parent feels like their child must have a phone when they are at school, at sports, or when they are away from home. While I don’t agree with the sentiment, I don’t judge parents who feel they must have access to their children, or their children must have access to them, at all times.
Our situation is different from many people we know and so none of our children have cell phones until they have graduated, are working, and can buy it on their own. We homeschool, I volunteer for many of the activities they go to, and I stay at home. I’m with them all the time. We have a home phone so that if I’m not home they will be able to call for help should they need it or should they want to talk to a friend on the phone (remember tying up the line when you were a kid? Our kids can still do that!). When they do go places and do things without me, it seems as if every single other kid has a phone (as do all the adults) so they can always borrow someone’s phone to call me if they need to. My kids don’t need a cell phone. To be honest, even if we didn’t homeschool and I wasn’t home with them all the time our kids still wouldn’t have cell phones.
But this isn’t about whether or not my child or yours needs his own phone. No, this is about teaching our children that there is life outside of the phone they carry on them at all times. This is about teaching our children to shut their phones off and go play. This is about allowing our children to put away the electronics and go be children- to use their imaginations, run, play, color on the driveway, get sweaty, argue with each other, learn from one another, sing, skip, and laugh.
We do our children an incredible disservice when we allow them to continuously tote around their phones, ipods, video games, tablets, and all the other electronics that have invaded their lives. While these gadgets can be amazing tools to help encourage our kids to learn, they can also be incredible detriments to our kids. They steal precious time away from our children; time that we can never get back.
When we encourage our children to play using their imaginations and to interact face to face with siblings and other friends we are actually encouraging our kids in ways that a phone, a tablet, or a video game never could. The benefits of imaginative play speak for themselves:
- Kids who engage in play with other children improve their social skills by learning to cooperate with one another, they learn problem solving and conflict resolution, they learn how to negotiate, and they learn how to understand each other’s emotions, needs, and feelings.
- Kids who play are more active, make healthier decisions in regards to food and exercise choices, they fidget less, and are able to concentrate more.
- Kids involved in physical activity as well as imaginative play increase their brain development. Play actually changes the neurons at the front of the brain in the prefrontal cortex! This change helps regulate emotions, problem solving, and helps a child to learn to reason. Additionally, play has been shown to increase memory functions and language development.
- Kids who regularly play have lower stress levels.
- Kids who get enough play time make better grades in school.
- Kids who play are making memories that will last a lifetime!
As schools prepare to let out and summer overtakes our lives, I beg you to tell your kids to put away their electronics. Ban them for most of the day and only allow them at certain times for a limited time. Instead, encourage your kids to go outside and play. Let them drink from the hose, make mud pies, build forts, camp under the stars, play Red Light, Green Light, ride their bikes, run through the sprinkler, build sandcastles, go on a nature walk, collect rocks, catch bugs, eat lunch in the grass, share secrets while they share a popsicle with a friend, sing, scream, and laugh.
Don’t have a safe outside environment or friends around? Ask a friend to come over and do many of these same things inside! Who remembers building forts out of blankets spread across the couches and the kitchen chairs drug into the living room? I sure do! Find ways to encourage play inside if you can’t go outside. Play with playdoh, build with blocks, cook, play with water beads, play board games together, have a talent show, play dress up, get out the craft bucket and go wild! Put your imagination to work and make memories!
As parents we want the best for our children. We often confuse what is truly the best with what society tells us is best. The “best” shoes, clothes, music players, tablets, and phones are great but they aren’t what are most important for any of us, let alone for our young children. The best thing we can do for our children is to put up their electronics and allow them to play as children should. We have to let them be kids again. If we don’t we will rob them of something that is not just important but is actually vital for their well-being.
One last piece of encouragement for you… as you turn off your children’s phones and put up their electronic distractions, turn off yours too. Play with your children. Make memories with them. I promise you will benefit every bit as much as they will.