Childhood Part 2: What Are We Missing?

Last week I reminisced about my childhood. Growing up on a ranch in Montana meant daily chores, homeschool lessons, and playing outside. Before the days of internet and cell phones and without a TV or video games, my brother and I entertained ourselves with books, Legos, forts, and exploring.


Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography


While part of me wishes I could replicate my picturesque childhood for my own kids, I realize that’s neither possible nor ideal. Times have changed so much, and as much as I cherish my sixteen years of ranch life, ranching is not something that I have chosen to pursue as an adult. My kids’ ranch experience will most likely be visits to the grandparents instead of a way of life.


Even so, I never really expected to end up settling in a city. Sometimes I feel claustrophobic, with the buildings pressing in on me and concrete, brick and steel everywhere I look. I long for open spaces, clean air, and clear skies without the light pollution that hides the stars at night. But the city is where I call home now, and the city may very well be where I raise my kids.


As I mentioned last week, I am less concerned about where my kids will grow up as when. Times really have changed. Our American culture is evolving, and not entirely in ways I’m comfortable with.


The one thing that stands out to me the most is our dependence on and infatuation with technology. It feels like we can’t survive without it, yet just a couple decades ago we hadn’t even imagined life with it. Cell phones were rare, the internet was relatively unknown, and social media wasn’t even a dream yet.


Now, almost everyone I know has a “smart” phone that commands their attention every few minutes. Between the iPhones, iPads, Kindles, laptops, desktop monitors, and televisions in my household of six, we have enough screens to pave a driveway.


Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-technology. I have my own share of screens that command my attention, including my beloved iPhone with its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram apps. I enjoy the convenience, usefulness and entertainment. I like being able to check the weather with a quick tap of my finger before I get dressed in the morning. I enjoy snapping pictures and sharing them with my friends across the country in a matter of seconds. I appreciate the GPS that not only keeps me from getting lost in the city, but helps me search for and find local businesses without dragging out the Yellow Pages.


Technology is not a bad thing. But I worry about how addicted to it we’ve become. And I worry about the precedent we are setting for our children. No matter how hard we fight it, our kids will inevitably do what we do, not just what we say. Children very much learn from what they see. At a very early age they begin to mimic the things their parents do and say.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my kids to grow up believing they need to have a cell phone in their hand at all times. I don’t want my kids to grow up believing they need to be entertained by staring at a screen. I don’t want my kids to grow up believing everything should happen with the tap of a button in 2 seconds or less.


I want my kids to read books more than watch YouTube videos. I want my kids to create things with their imaginations and build things with their hands more than look at pictures on Pinterest. I want my kids to play board games with the family more than video games in front of the TV. I want my kids to enjoy real conversations face to face more than texting “LOLs” and “OMGs.” I want my kids to appreciate fresh air and sunshine more than the couch and an iPhone game.


I know there’s no going back to “before.” Before our lives became inundated with little bright screens that link us to each other, entertain us, and keep us organized. I am resigned to the fact that unless I choose to become Amish, modern technology will most likely be a big part of my life and my children’s lives.


But I am not resigned to letting modern technology control my life. I am not okay with those little bright screens commanding my attention for so many of my waking hours. I acknowledge their necessity in our modern world – I stare at the bright screen of my computer half the day as part of earning my paycheck. But so much that the bright screens offer us is really not a necessity.


How many cumulative hours have escaped us just by flicking our fingers across a screen, “throwing” a make-believe crumpled ball of paper into a make-believe trashcan? Whether it’s Paper Toss or Angry Gran or Draw Something or your Facebook newsfeed, the minutes slip into hours, which slip into days that we don’t get back.


I don’t know about you, but I never feel good after spending an extended amount of time playing a mindless iPhone game or even “liking” my friends’ Facebook statuses or “retweeting” pithy quotes. I don’t feel refreshed or rested. I don’t feel content or fulfilled. I don’t feel happy about time well spent. I just feel tired.


So, all that to say… as I contemplate what childhood will be like for my future children, I am realizing that the precedent I set now will have a huge impact. If I want my kids to realize the value of the world not contained within a bright little screen, I need to demonstrate it myself. I need to rediscover life. I need to seek out fresh air and sunshine, face-to-face conversations, board games and hobbies.


Because I want my kids to not miss the world that’s right in front of their eyes.


Question: What do you think – is evolving technology both a blessing and a curse? How do you handle it in your family? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!