My epiphany of the week is that, as a culture, we seem to be getting nostalgic about the ’80s the way that we used to get nostalgic about the ’50s. As a geek and non-Luddite, I am both fascinated and alarmed.
Mentioned on many news websites this week is a story about a family who is shunning all technology made after 1986. The parents of this family of 4 decided the kids were spending too much time on the screen and not enough time outside. Since both parents were born in 1986 they hatched an idea to live without modern technology for a year. No Internet, no cell phones, no iPods, no CDs or DVDs (no Facebook!). If you missed it, you can read the story in The Atlantic or the Toronto Sun.
My coworker, when I mentioned this family, then told me about a new TV show coming this fall called “The Goldbergs.” It’s a family comedy set in the 1980s (they even have matching Cosby-esque sweaters) and is described this way on the abc.com website: “Before there were parenting blogs, trophies for showing up, and peanut allergies, there was a simpler time called the ‘80s.”
As someone who grew up and graduated high school in the ’80s, perhaps I am simply too familiar with this decade to wax eloquent about the joys of the cold war, the amazing 8-bit computer graphics, and the excitement of playing on my Merlin. But I don’t think that’s all of it. I think I am not comfortable with this nostalgia that implies that modern technology is bad and ruining childhoods.
If you’re worried your kid is getting pasty from spending too much time in front of the TV, computer, or iPad, why not find a little balance? There’s no reason to toss your iPad out the window and turn off your wifi.
There are plenty of tips available online (gasp!) for how to place some reasonable limits on technology so your kids get plenty of time to play outside. Here are some ideas:
1. Create a family contract for how you’re going to use technology and when. Consider making dinner time a “tech-free time,” or only allow your kids technology during certain hours of the day. The fosi.org website has some contracts you could use (or you can develop your own!).
2. Give your kids some tech-free alternatives (or just push them into the backyard). Teach them how to play Capture the Flag or Ghost in the Graveyard with the neighbor kids. Pick up a copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys/The Daring Book for Girls to inspire them. Or you can always just turn the computer/TV off and send them outside to be bored and make their own fun.
3. Not unlike my tips for keeping your kids safe online, keep the computer in a public space. If it’s there, it’s easier to keep track of how much time they’re on it…and easier to set and enforce the rules.
4. Set a timer. Hate being the bad guy? Let the computer take the fall by setting up parental controls to specify what hours of the day your child is allowed to use the computer. (Watch a video with instructions for Windows 7.)
5. Sign your kid up for a class/help them develop a hobby. Your local school district might offer enrichment classes, or go “old school” and teach your child one of your special skills (no YouTube required!). Kids are often interested in knitting/crochet, carpentry, gardening, etc. and just need someone to teach them how (grandparents and neighbors can be a great resource too!)
By using some or all of these techniques you and your kids can have the best of 1986 AND 2013. They’ll have enough free time to get a tan, play some ball, and ride bikes with friends around your neighborhood. But, they can also visit places virtually and can have access to knowledge in their living room we couldn’t even imagine as we flipped through the card catalog.