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There's No Learning Without Listening, and No Listening without Turning Off Digital Devices!

Updated on July 11, 2012

My kids would happily zone out from everything forever

If I didn't get involved, my daughters would never look up from all the screen in their life. First, there's the iPod they borrow from their father. Then, there's the cellphones with games that my wife and I both carry. Then, there's the video game console attached to the television that has Netflix. Then, there's the computer where they can hide out in my office and blast their eyes with whatever strange things they can find on-line. I trust my daughters and teach them to be responsible members of the digital society, but one thing I have a great deal of difficulty teaching them is how to control their impulse to be on-line all the time. I find that they have trouble learning when there's a screen nearby, and they have trouble thinking when they are distracted by the constant buzz, hum, chirp, warble, click, ring, flash, splash, and white noise of our modern world. I have to have techniques to deal with this, otherwise my daughters would learn nothing!

These are my strategies. What are yours?

Dealing with this, I find it is important for me to pull my kids away from the screens that define their life.

We don't have a big TV, and I think this is crucial. I know it is the sort of thing that makes parents suffer, too, but I know we could not succeed if we did not have a small TV. During the week, I put the TV in our closet, out of sight of my daughters, who have better things to do during the week than watch TV all week - particularly in the summer when they have more time than they really need! You probably have too many televisions. Also, they're probably larger than you really need. It doesn't make your life better to have a TV so big you have to mount it to the wall. If you can't easily move your television every week into a closet, sell your TV, and buy a smaller one. Big TVs are bad for your kids. I put our television in the master closet every week. It is only out on weekends, when both my wife and I are around to make sure our girls aren't losing their attention span.

When my girls get older (they are both under ten) I will have to find a way to keep in touch with them with a cellphone, but before we get there, I want to make sure I teach them good digital habits. For that, I model those habits. When my daughters are speaking to me, I put away my phone. When we are doing something as a family, I put my phone on silent. I work freelance, and this can be perceived as annoying to demanding clients, but if they need me they need to schedule a time to speak with me, and when projects go live, they need to pay me for the trouble of being on-call. I make sure to model the behavior I want my daughters to have. If I show them how important it is to never let my cellphone or digital device control me with it's insistent beeping, how will they learn to let the phone ring and check it later.

The computer is mostly used by me when I'm working. I keep the machine password protected. What that means is that unless I approve of their use, they are not allowed to go on-line and watch movies on Netflix, or play games at When my girls get older, I expect to buy computers for them, but I need to be certain, as a parent, that my girls are ready for the constant distraction of the computer.

NO WIFI. We do not have Wifi in the house. You have to be at my desk to get on-line. This does bother my wife to no end who needs to get on-line when I'm working, but she has her own laptop, and she can take the desk while I go somewhere to write else if she really needs it. Controlling the flow of information into our household forces us to be more present in our day to day lives, and to be more specific about our families' real, in-the-moment needs.

Just like my daughters, when I am on-line, I am not learning. I am not learning who my daughters are, and who my wife is, and how they live their lives. Control the flood. Step away from the digital devices. Be present in your own life.

Kids learn by watching their parents. Model the behavior you want to see in your child.

Family Board Game Night is Crucial!

Bring back family board game night!

I used to play a regular DnD game with some friends. As a parent and freelance worker, I don't really have the time for such trivial pursuits. But, I do have time for trivial pursuit. Family board game night is an important way to bond with my daughters, interact off-line, and engage in person-to-person fun. There are too many video games. There are too many digital distractions. Separating from the flood of media is an important thing, and i've noticed it improves my daughters' attention spans. We turn off the television, play a board game, and interact directly with each other.

Family gardening, I believe, is a critical part of child development. Incorporating our daughters in our gardening gives everyone a job that feeds the family, and passes knowledge down from parent to child about meaningful life skills that they can use their whole life. Knowing how to grow food, even if you don't have to, is a way to stay connected to the physical reality of our lives, apart from the digital world that would so happily consume us. Time spent together in the garden is time spent learning away from all the noise and confusion. It is a way to teach my daughters hard work, patience, and the beauty of all life. I know that this time we spend together improves their lives, and their ability to keep control of their attention span in this confusing digital age.

And, when the girls are caught seeking out their digital fix, we choose to punish them with activities that force them to live in the physical world, in the yard, and with each other. For example, when I caught my daughters on my computer when I stepped away to make lunch, I made them do the dishes together after lunch and dinner, even though it was not their night to do the dishes. I sat in the kitchen and supervised, away from my own devices and reading.

We do the best I can to pull them away from the digital world. It isn't that I want to keep them from experiencing it. It's that I want them to know how to be humans first, before they decide to be post-humans or not. When they are my age, I can only marvel at what will be possible for them, and what choices they will have. I want to be sure they make those choices as fully-realized human beings, in full control of their mind and impulses.

We do the best we can.


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