When you read a news article these days, you will see headlines like:
“Does Social Media Cause Depression”
“How heavy Instagram and Facebook use may be affecting kids negatively”
“10 Social Media Controversies That Landed Students in Trouble This School Year”
As parents, fear can be a powerful motivator. We fear that our children will grow up with their faces in a phone all day or game until the wee hours of the morning or flunk out of college because of an internet based addiction. We fear they won’t be able to hold an adult conversation because the only words they know are abbreviations and meme slang. These are the types of fears that headlines about rising teen internet use invoke in concerned parents. However, all is not lost. Smart phones and even smart houses are here to stay. But that doesn’t mean we have to allow them to take over our families and our children’s lives.
The engineers creating apps and games are well-versed in human psychology. They know that we all respond to bells and flashing lights and the allure of a message just for us. Guiding our children down a path to help them become intelligent consumers of technology is a new and evolving role for parents. Some intentional effort in this arena will reap many rewards for parents who want to see their teenagers develop healthy habits regarding electronics.
When your children are still young, what are some things you can do to encourage them to enjoy childhood and utilize their creativity instead of turning to a device to provide all their entertainment?
First, naturally limit use of electronic devices to fill times of boredom. A quick Google search of “the value of boredom” revealed How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative, The Surprising Benefits of Boredom, and The Scientific Benefits of Being Bored. Why is it that we have lost the love of boredom? Where do good ideas come from? Being bored. Making sure that we don’t hand our child a device or allow them to flip on the television or computer every time they claim “I’m bored,” is a huge step toward helping them develop skills that allow them to seek alternatives to electronics.
What are boredom busters that can encourage creative play?
Perhaps setting up stations or areas where your child can go when they are bored will help.
A dress up station filled with themed clothes (from your closet, Grandma’s or Goodwill), Halloween costumes (on sale in the winter), scarves and costume jewelry and even fabric remnants can result in hours of dress up, theatrical and dance events, and creative character play.
A building center or plastic tub full of building supplies provides an opportunity for trial and error and figuring out the best way to create a project. Of course Legos are great, but so are other building materials. A visit to a construction site dumpster (with permission) or the local home improvement store can yield endless pieces for modular play. Various size pieces of PVC pipe and fittings, boards (remove any nails or splinters), and other building materials make for fort building paradise. Add a few sheets from a yard sale and your children may want to spend the night in their new creation.
Another area or storage tub could be dedicated to arts and crafts supplies. Stock up when school supplies are plentiful and add paints and paint brushes, fabric scraps and embroidery thread, glue and some construction paper, old magazines, and a couple of T-shirt’ for smocks. Your artistic child will be content for hours creating a masterpiece for your fridge.
As with any activity for young children, you will need to set parameters on where they can spread out their creative supplies and how they will need to clean them up and return them to the storage tub. Eventually they will be able to independently choose activities, rather than always going to a device for entertainment.
By offering this unstructured time, think of the opportunities you are providing for your child. They are practicing skills that use creativity, imagination, and innovation. So next time your youngster starts to whine, instead of handing over the iPad, reach for an activity tub to inspire them.