The Summer My Kids (Almost) Completely Unplugged

Geek Culture

Playmobil scenes-5Playmobil scenes-5

Playmobil. A classic playtime toy. Photo: Jenny Williams

My son, age eight, is quite attached to our iPod Touch. And the computer. And sometimes to the television and the Nintendo DSi. (And my iPad when I let him touch it.) For the most part, he plays educational games, or watches quality movies or videos. He has learned all of the countries in the world, and quite a bit about strategy and physics. And while he never complains about being bored, he does seem to be dependent on these electronics for much of his entertainment. To give him a break from this, we have often had days where the kids went electronics-free. But lately, that hasn’t been enough.

So a friend and I devised a plan for my kids. They will have an (almost) electronics-free summer. So from June 3 (when my daughter gets back from a Girl Scout trip) until the end of July, my kids will have to stay away from electronics. Mostly. I am making a few exceptions.

One, they can Skype with their dad. Two, they can occasionally check their email (they almost never get any). (These two fall under “communication” and are therefore exempt from restriction.) And three, they each get a punch card (made by yours truly) good for ten days during the summer that they can choose to do electronics. This works out to a little more often than one day per week on average.

This experiment will be much easier for my daughter, age eleven. She isn’t as naturally drawn toward electronics the way my son is, and she enjoys being outside more often. Hopefully he can follow her lead, and go on adventures, and discover old toys.

My hopes for this experiment are manifold. I want my son to be more physically active. I want my son to experience boredom. I want my son to play with his other toys. Whenever he does, he has a great time and often produces very creative results. But when weighed against a shiny iThing, he almost always chooses the iThing over analog toys. Fortunately, he loves to read. He can get lost in a stack of books just like he can get lost in a game on the iPod Touch. This may be our key to success.

I wonder if this will turn out as it always did on shows like 1900 House, 1940s House, and Frontier House. The kids on those shows managed to entertain themselves in more traditional ways while the show was going on, and they indeed did have a great time. But once the show was over, they picked up right where they left off, plugged into their cell phones and electronics. At least the older ones did. If this summer is a success, though, I will likely find a happy medium for future electronics restrictions, striking a balance between shiny iThing fun, and more traditional play.

Come August, I hope to be able to report that my son has rediscovered life without iThings, computers, and television. I hope to be able to say that he now chooses toys over electronics, books over video games. Wish me luck!

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