Kids, Technology and Balance: Why My Kids Should Cook a Meal, Sew a Button & (Eventually) Change a Tire

With summer coming, I’ve started compiling a list of ideas that I can use to keep all my Heathens occupied. Over the past several months, I’ve struggled with the realization that I have two kids who are overly attached to all things electronic, and I only have myself to blame (Bean’s too young, so she gets a temporary pass from this discussion). In my defense, I really thought I was doing well with finding a balance; my kids don’t have cell phones (nor will they any time soon), they aren’t allowed to use the internet without permission or supervision, and their video games are (mostly) age-appropriate. But, I recently realized that I spend entirely too much time in my day refereeing which child gets the computer, watching their time on it and saying no to the endless requests for new games. Even more disconcerting was the realization that every single conversation they start has to do with a video game…every single one. My boys could play video games 24/7 if we let them. I’ve reached a point that I never thought I would: I have failed to maintain the balance that I thought would be so easy to regulate.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going all “anti-technology.” Video games aside, our kids will need a degree of electronic aptitude to be successful in whatever their future careers may be. To deny this fact would be to stick my head in the sand. However, not too long ago, my husband and I got into a discussion about all of the practical know-how that, not only are we lacking, but we are also failing to teach our kids. It certainly got me thinking.

Just last week, when we realized that the ceiling fan in Bean’s room finally died, my husband looked at me like I was insane for suggesting that we figure out how to install a new one ourselves, rather than paying someone money we don’t have to do it. I’m embarrassed to admit that, other than a few plants, I cannot tell one tree, flower or bush from another. That’s kind of pathetic considering that I come from an extended family of master gardeners. I grew up with a mom who had her own restaurant and catering business, but when I left for college, I couldn’t even cook rice without calling home for help. Other than changing a tire, my husband can’t tell you the first thing about cars, despite the fact that his dad is a mechanic.

The few practical skills I do have, I learned by seeing and doing. For example, after the fourth time my teenage self called my parents because I had a flat tire, they told me unceremoniously that I had a manual, a tire iron and a jack, and to figure it out for myself. I may have spent the next hour swearing up a storm in my high school parking lot, but to this day, I can change my own tire. My father made me open my first bank account when I was twelve and instilled in me lessons about finance that carried us through the most meager of times. I grew up watching my mom figure out how to do things for herself, from drywall to refinishing furniture, because if she didn’t do it, it just wasn’t going to get done.

I have spent a good portion of my adult life trying to teach myself practical skills that I wish I had learned earlier. During most of my college years and early marriage, I painstakingly learned to cook more than macaroni and cheese. Sadly, we wasted money on many pairs of new pants for my husband before I figured out that a five-minute hem repair would have saved most of the old ones. I continue to struggle with sewing, and will probably tackle my first project with a pattern next week. From canning to gardening, knitting to basic home improvement, I always circle back to the fact that I would have benefitted by paying more attention to real life as a child/teen, instead of the hours I spent on the phone, gossiping with my friends.

So, what does this have to do with the Heathens? Well, I’m hoping that, with a proactive plan, I can shift some of their focus away from the siren’s call of the computer screen. I want to teach them how to do things that are infinitely more valuable than beating the last level of Plants vs. Zombies. When my children are grown, I want them to have a can-do mentality, or at least a “bet-I-can-figure-it-out” mentality. Mostly, I feel a deep need that all of us need to spend a few more hours a week “checking in” to real life, instead of checking out in front of a screen. The computer itself is not the problem; after all, even Cookie Monster now knows that cookies are fine in moderation, and the internet can be a great resource for “how do I do that?” The problem is me. I’ve been too inconsistent with limits, too quick to let things slide, and too impatient to slow down and teach my kids. When life goes off the rails, it’s easy to let the computer keep the peace.

So, my goal for this summer is to work on developing kids that can do. By August, I want them to be able to list all the new things that they learned, things that have nothing to do with a video game. After all, do you think anyone is going to look back on their life and think, “hot damn, I really wish I had spent more time playing Minecraft?” Nope, I don’t think so either. Now, if I can just figure out how to swing this plan without being the meanest mom ever. Ideas?

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