Our spring vacation came at a much needed time and not just because I couldn’t take another gray Chicago day (although that was a very big part of it). No, I needed to hear the sound of my younger child’s voice again because I realized that entire days would go by and the only time he spoke to me was to answer my questions:
Me: How was school?
Me: How much homework do you have?
Him: Not a lot
Me: Do you want a snack?
And so on, and so on.
There was one day, a couple of months ago, where he and I were in the same room within six feet of each other for nearly two hours and we did not speak AT ALL!
How is that possible?
I stood on one side of the kitchen counter prepping and cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen and yes, occasionally checking my computer and phone while he sat across the counter surrounded by his devices—a laptop, an IPad and a phone—finishing his homework, watching videos and texting. Other than the clicking of the keyboard and the occasional laugh (at the videos not the homework) we were in silence.
Something had to change.
Taking away all of his electronics and shooing him out the door wasn’t going to cut it this time. We were all slipping into the Internet abyss and we needed to get far away from its pull.
This required a change of scenery, somewhere with non-stop action, somewhere like Vegas but for a 15-year-old, somewhere like Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
It was perfect.
After only a few hours of riding roller coasters and walking through Harry Potter themed worlds my taciturn teenager was the chatty, energized kid I used to know.
He talked about stuff. I learned more about what was going on with him than I ever would have if we hadn’t taken him away from the screens. We talked about school, his friends, his interests and even current events. He could have sat at dinner in silence or answered questions with one grunt but instead he was engaged…and didn’t need to reach for his phone.
And given the choice between sitting in the room and watching videos or being outside he always chose outside. When we had our fill of the parks—thankfully by about noon every day—he wanted to go for a run or workout at the hotel gym. He even had us track down a soccer ball so he could kick the ball around with his dad. Over three-and-a-half days we covered the entire park, saw a movie (in a theater not the hotel room), played mini-golf, went to a Blue Man Group performance and took an airboat ride in the Everglades to look for crocodiles. By the last day, I admit, I was ready for a mid-afternoon nap but he was still going.
Of course I realized, post-vacation, that we don’t live in an amusement park where every moment is fun-filled and action-packed. There is crap to do and clearly, taking a vacation every weekend is not fiscally prudent.
This vacation, however, was a great way to “reboot” and, more importantly, it helped me see that my kid, like most kids probably, turns to his electronics when he is bored and trying to fill his days…and so do I apparently.
I’ve gotten in the habit of playing Candy Crush while simultaneously binge watching something on Netflix. My husband is equally guilty of checking his phone when there is a lull in the action.
Great role-models, right?
Unfortunately taking away all of our electronics all of the time is not the answer. “It is the way of the 21st century,” my son says…repeatedly. I’ve been forced to acknowledge that a good part of my son’s social life is screen based. He and his friends communicate via text (no one actually speaks anymore), they share their lives via social media, and when he isn’t playing soccer or out with a group of people, he and his friends get together and play video games the way we watched movies on TV (my son claims that Xbox games are like a movie whose ending they can control).
That doesn’t mean, however, that he gets to burrow into the basement and get swallowed by the black hole of the Internet.
I will continue to yank the electronics when he stops speaking to me in full sentences and, most importantly, I will help him figure out ways to fill his days–even if that means that I have to give up my Candy Crush addiction and model better boredom-busting behavior.
It’s good to remember though, that if all else fails and I find that I can’t take the screen away from my kid, I can still take my kid, and me, away from the screen.
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