opinions

  • Dec 7, 2012

I’m not much of a disciplinarian.

The kids’ beds remain unmade most days, their shoes and backpacks litter the family room and I’m likely to say, “Oh just finish what you’re reading and then do the dishes.”

My children are fueled by hugs and kisses and lots of praise. The world will be unkind to every one of us; home should be a haven of acceptance and love.

I think because I don’t nag and so rarely insist on much, my children listen to my opinion. And well, maybe I do have a lot of opinions.

Tis the season when everyone shops for gifts and several times in the last few weeks I’ve been asked, “What age is appropriate for an iPod touch?” “Have you heard of any good DS games?” “Are you buying a Kindle Fire?”

An uncomfortable silence (for me) usually follows. Most of the time, I’ll remain quiet and let others carry the conversation, but once in a while someone persists in hearing my opinion. I hesitate to speak up because I hate to offend.

But here it is: no iPod touch, no personal game consoles, no smart phones, no Kindle Fire, no internet connection or TVs in any bedroom (including mine and Erik’s). We do have an iPad shared among the family– always password protected, usually hidden on a shelf or in a drawer and drained of power. A few iPods also roam the family, but they are used for long runs, lawn mowing or late night study sessions– no one wears ear buds around the house or at the dinner table.

We’re certainly no Luddites. Our two laptops and my big desktop computer are usually buzzing during homework time (but forever and always password protected and never moved from the kitchen). Google is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to research papers and all my children list khanacademy.org as one of their hobbies. I downloaded Star Wars Angry Birds on my phone the day it came out and I consider Instagram the BEST social connection ever. My phone is pretty popular and gets passed around the family a lot; but I figure one smart phone is enough for all of us.

In fact, it’s probably because I love my phone a bit too much that I’m strict about most electronics. There was no internet when my boys were little, but plenty of game systems and cable TV. I felt a fair amount of pressure from other parents to invest in such things, but with my crazy household I felt I needed to be extra cautious because:

A. our household is probably already more violent than yours.

B. we are prone to addictions

and

C. I’m not as good at monitoring as other parents.

Interestingly, none of my kids has ever begged or pushed for any game or device. They simply know we don’t buy those things and they take a certain amount of pride in being different.

I’ll tell you what we do have– a wood pile at the side of the house, tools in the garage, art supplies, thousands of books, a playroom strewn with Legos (as valuable as textbooks in my opinion), blenders they can take apart, my camera equipment, musical instruments, cooking supplies and a mom who doesn’t mind a mess, music playing full blast in the kitchen, sprinkler pipes for making potato guns, board games, bikes and balls and baseball bats.
 

A few years ago someone gave us a game system. I grudgingly conceded to setting it up in the basement but made the rule we would never buy a game rated higher than T (teen). Last year, Stefan came home from school with his ears buzzing about a game called Skyrim all his friends were excited about. We looked it up, but when Stef saw the M (mature) rating he just said, “Oh well. Never mind.”

When Stefan moved into his apartment at BYU this August he said, “Thanks for not letting me play video games, mom. I think I would have become really addicted to them and missed out on so much of my life.” He then told me about the hours several of his school acquaintances spent on games.

I was confused, “But if they are playing games and doing homework and working at the car wash how do they have time to develop their character?”

Stefan laughed, “That’s exactly what they are doing. They spend hours developing their online character– can he jump 12 feet, shoot fire, progress to level eleven.” And then Stefan and his younger brothers joked about creating a video game where real life actions could contribute to online strengths: 100 pull ups equals 1 power point, reading two books earns a knowledge level, etc.

He wrote to Ben:

My friend isn’t enjoying college. He’s what I would be if mom and dad hadn’t made me be better. He doesn’t like people or making friends which is what I could have been if dad hadn’t taught me how to look people in the eye (when I’m talking to you!) or mom hadn’t taught me to be nice to brothers and to everyone else. He loves computer games and I feel like I would too if our family wasn’t so against them. So there. But he is a good guy.

Now,  I’m at the point in my post where I’m ready to delete the whole thing and I’ve already deleted and reinserted the entire section on video games. I’m not judging anyone here. Plenty of families manage phones and game systems and television just fine. But we can’t. We spend too much time on computers and online already; my kids would surely kill each other if I bought Mortal Combat and none of my kids would do their homework again if we had cable TV. I really don’t think I’m mature enough for an iPhone and I often purposely leave it in the car to keep myself from compulsively checking my email.

As I’ve said before, every parent does what is best for their own family. I’m just presenting my opinion and an alternative for those who might want to go against the grain. Your kids won’t hate you for saying ‘no,’ they’ll probably thank you.

December 5, 2012
December 10, 2012

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19 Comments

  1. Reply

    jen

    December 7, 2012

    I think you have a perfect policy for your family and your kids are truly delightful. If I didn’t already have wonderful parents and a wonderful brother, I would be begging you to adopt me because your family has so much fun together. (I still might beg.)

  2. Reply

    Sharlee

    December 7, 2012

    Bless you, Michelle. I love that you’re presenting this kind of a “limited electronics” life as a viable option. Too many parents don’t think it’s a realistic possibility, but it is!

  3. Reply

    Tracy

    December 7, 2012

    I love you. We own one TV and will never own more. We don’t do technology here and my kids don’t ask for it. Also, did you see Eloise’s birthday post earlier this week? You would be proud of her – I asked what she wanted me to post about for her birthday and she gave me a list of her favorite books and authors because as she said to me ‘that’s about the most important thing about me right now’. You’d be proud. xo

  4. Reply

    Natalie Allen

    December 7, 2012

    I love this. And my mom for doing the same thing at our house.

  5. Reply

    Linn

    December 7, 2012

    Thank you for sharing this, Michelle! We are in your boat (which is just our preference, not necessarily right for everyone). We own one TV (it is as old as the hills, we get made fun of it often) and no handhelds, Kindles, etc. We do have a Wii though, which was given to us by my parents six or seven years ago. We enjoy it at times, but mostly it lives unplugged in the storage room in the basement. I’m kind of mean that way. Like you, I just know that addiction is too easy (you should see me with Chapstick) and it is what Jacob and I grew up with and were grateful for, so let the tradition continue!

    I do have to say, finding a cell phone that is NOT a smartphone and without internet, for our oldest was not easy. But we finally did. That being said, both Jacob and I have smartphones. He needed one for work and it was a buy one get one free thing. I love having a quick camera option for sure. And now you have me wondering about Instagram, since FB lost me a while ago.

    Okay, enough of that. Thanks for sharing this post. I love to hear ideas behind why people do certain things and then evaluate our situation and make sure we are doing what is best for our little family and for the right reasons!

  6. Reply

    Emi Edgley

    December 7, 2012

    We bought our 11-year old daughter an ipod touch for Christmas… and now your insight has made me take a step back and reevaluate our gift. Thank you for making me think more about this potentially weighty matter. And also, your post has caused me to evaluate my own use of technology… I certainly could place better limits on myself and the minutes that whittle away, even on Instagram (as fun as it is!). Bless you.

  7. Reply

    Kate

    December 7, 2012

    Amen Michelle!! Amen!! My kids stopped asking about an itouch a long time ago. Also my 13 year old is having a hard time with friends because all everyone does is play M video games and he knows he can’t (and frankly doesn’t want to!) I would prefer not to own a TV- but my husband grew up in a family where they had the tv on 2-4-7. It is good to know there are other mothers out there like me- that don’t think it is necessary (or wise) to have the latest gadgit etc. I am so grateful I have stayed strong!!! You are my hero.
    xoxo. Katie

  8. Reply

    Kerri

    December 7, 2012

    Oh, Michelle, I always love to hear your opinions. I have fallen down the slippery slope of technology in our home, I’m afraid, but reading this reminds me how I feel in my heart of hearts. It’s hard to balance these feelings with a spouse who doesn’t feel similarly, so I’ve chosen to stop fighting some of the battles.

    Our technology currently: No M games here, for sure. But I lost the smartphone battle, and I’m feeling uncomfortable about it. And my kids play videogames very very rarely. I did choose to buy a Wii and have videogames so they wouldn’t be the kids who go to a friend’s house and ONLY want to play them. It seems to have worked for us. They play on a very limited basis, and generally only when they have a new game (so generally only at Christmas time.) I want to get rid of cable: didn’t have it until 5 years ago and I don’t like it now, even though we have the very very very lowest package we can have.

    Our policy when they were young was 1 hour of screen time after they were done with all chores, homework, and practicing. Anything else had to be earned by a 3:2 ratio of brain to screen time. 15 min of brain time (reading, more practicing, puzzles) earned them 10 min more of screen time. It worked beautifully for years.

    Thanks for choosing to speak up about your opinions in a way that is so respectful of other peoples’ choices as well. You’re awesome.

  9. Reply

    Mama B

    December 8, 2012

    I seriously love your bits of wisdom about raising a family. And this one is no exception. We decided way before we had kids to not be a house with video games. Other electronics are very limited too. Glad to know that it isn’t the end of the world for my kids to live in a house like that.

  10. Reply

    Patrick Brain

    December 8, 2012

    I happened across this and thought I’d share insight from a different angle, one observed from having the wonderful opportunity serving as a young men’s president. I struggle, at times, getting my troops noses away from their “devices.” Their ability to manipulate a keyboard is astounding. Their manual dexterity and pace at which they text is extordinary. Many of their music playlists are inappropriate for sure. They wait with baited breath for the next version of Halo. So, in many ways, I agree wholeheartedly with you Michelle. However, I’ve also seen the often troubling difference between those who have a little longer leash and those who live in households as described above. I’ve heard these boys share their testimony in public about how grateful they are that their parents have kept various forms of media out of the home. These same boys, secretly and willfully, are those who have secret stashes of games and R-rated DVDs under their beds. They are those who tell their parents that they are going to “hang out” at Moca for breakfast burritos. Instead, the sneak to another young man’s house, barricade themselves in a bedroom, and indulge in a Halo or Mortal Combat tourney. I’ve seen these young men, friends of my kids, come over wanting to watch YouTube clips instead of wanting to play basketball outside, throw the football around, or practice lacrosse. Ironically enough, my kids, who have some limited time to partake of media, are the ones who desperately try to convince them to go outside and play. They are not suggesting a game of Madden 2013 despite having access. Their friends, on the other hand, beg and plead. Many are those who have VERY stringent policies at home. I’m not sure what is worse, simply partaking of media or lying about NOT doing so So, I am of the opinion, that the cliché, “Live IN the world but not of the world” is a valid model that can be the source for balance. My kids play appropriate games but also practice the piano everyday. They watch select YouTube clips on upstairs, in plain view, family computers but also excel in school and have insatiable appetites for learning. Every night they gladly check their devices in before going to their rooms. They enjoy sport games on Xbox but do better on actual playing fields as our Saturdays are consumed by real life sports. I know, or at least have confidence that when they say they are going to do “X” at a friends, they won’t be doing “Y.” Just thought I’d share a different slant, respectfully. Pat Brain

  11. Reply

    Sharlee

    December 8, 2012

    Thanks for your perspective, Pat. I, too, have seen this kind of behavior from kids whose parents are ultra strict and have lots of very restrictive rules–about anything, really. But if you know Michelle or even if you read her original post carefully, you’ll note that that definitely is not the case here. It almost always backfires if rules are set up in an authoritarian way or in a way that makes electronics (or whatever) the forbidden fruit. What Michelle and Erik have managed to do is create a family *team* where everyone is on board. Their children are happy, smart, successful, well-adjusted, creative, trustworthy, spiritually-grounded kids who take pride in what their family stands for. Would that all kids were so blessed! The point is that as parents/families we can make deliberate choices and decide together who we want to be and what is important to us. We are agents who can *act.* It makes me sad when I hear parents say things like: “All the kids have smart phones these days, so I guess my kid has to have one too.” or “If we don’t have a gaming system, our kids will never want to stay home.” That’s just not true. We don’t have to capitulate to anything.

  12. Reply

    Judi

    December 8, 2012

    Your post has for sure made me think and rethink a few choices that we have made here in our home. Maybe it is different because we have 2 sons who are 8 yrs apart. It is like having two different families in one.
    When I first got married and moved to Italy we had only one TV and it was in the living room. It was on at lunch, dinner, and after dinner, and of course for any soccer game that could be found. I was lucky enough to find a CBS news show that was on every morning, in English for 30 minutes. I grew up reading and watching very little TV, and if we did watch it we had to “pay” for it…we didn’t get allowance but points that could be used towards TV…it worked well…I wanted something like that in my home. but as Kerri wrote, you have to pick and choose your battles. I won’t tell you how many TV’s we have in our home, but it’s to many…and I just got a small flat screen for my room (I work from home, and it is company for me when no one is here…it is usually on CNN with no volume, or on a radio station playing softly). We have game systems, and ipod touch (was the older Brothers that the younger one took over big brother went on his mission) we have laptops, PC’s, Ipad, smartphones (Androids and Iphones) even the young one has a phone, but not with all the bells and wisltes..but is has instagram and facebook on it and texting. I hate to say it, but he’s had a phone for almost 4 yrs now…mainly because we don’t have land lines and I wasn’t going to leave him without a way to get in touch with us, or vise versa.
    My youngest son does play Halo and Back Ops, learned from his brother, but they play with no volume. Only the game. Mainly they play sports game…soccer, football, and basketball. It has been something that has brought them together. Something they had in common. Like Patrick wrote, I didn’t and don’t want my sons to be the ones who would “sneak” around and do things. I have seen what has happened to some of their friend, drugs, jail, sex and kids of their own now, bad grades in school or dropping out, and no ambition in life.
    Instead, for our family, we have and do give a lot of freedom. So far it has worked from them and us as a family.
    They are worthy priesthood holders, one is an RM, the fulfill all their responsibilites at home. College scholarships, 4.0 gpa, etc etc etc…
    But most of all they love to be outside with their friends playing ball, or other various activies. I can trust them when they say they are going or doing something. And I’m thankful for that.
    I wish that I had done things differently from the start, with less TV, electronics, etc…but every family does what is best for their family.
    I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t give in to them.
    Instagram is wonderful, I like facebook too (usually on it while working – it’s a job aid, seriously). The electronics have helped me to stay in touch with family and friends on the other side of the world…it if wasn’t for technology I would have never met you, and your Ben would just be another missionary in a picture, instead I consider you a dear friend.
    Some people may judge me the other way…and that is okay…I think that each family does what is best for them and what works. The main thing is to be a parent who loves their kids, who is involved in their lives, whom they trust and will talk to. We are both lucky to have such great families…
    I admire you that you have held strong….in my home there would have been a revolt.
    And can I say that the games are played at Christmas when they get a new one, and sometimes when a friend comes over…the Wii is for netflicks mainly, and the xbox..well it will collect dust for about 10 months out of the year…
    xoxo J

    PS…just read all the posts from your California trip…you are blessed to have such a wonderful family and the ocean was beautiful, but I’m with the “local girl” i don’t think I would have jumped in either! xoxo

  13. Reply

    Michelle

    December 8, 2012

    Ah, I knew this post would elicit mixed reactions. But as I said, I’m not judging anyone’s parenting, simply presenting another option.

    I understand what you are saying, Pat. But I do feel like you didn’t read my words. I’m certain you do what is right for your family (as is evidenced by your beautiful, charming, intelligent children) but you and H are much more organized people than we are! As I said, I’m not as good at monitoring kids. I blame it on my left-handedness. 😉

    Your argument against overly strict parenting is sound and some version of that warning has been ringing in my ears for all 22 years of my parenting. Especially when my kids were really little I was scolded over and over on the dangers of not having cable TV or video games. I just stayed quiet and parented the way I knew was right for my family.

    You’re a nice guy, Pat, and I’m sure you’d never lecture another parent on the dangers of not having Halo, but you’d be surprised at how many people have schooled me on such subjects. Sharlee, Kate, Linn etc– I’m sure you’ve experienced the same phenomenon.

    Now that my kids are older and happy, delightful people (thanks Sharlee) I want to extend a hand to younger parents who feel a little alone and unsure about marching to a different drummer.

    Never before have parents been presented with so many options and watched those options change every six months! We are constantly reevaluating and considering. We’re certainly not overly strict, but we are doing what works for us.

  14. Reply

    ellen

    December 9, 2012

    My sister-in-law drove a car load of girls to Girls Camp a few years ago and a few of the girls that landed in her car were upset that she didn’t have a DVD player. She said to them, “Why don’t you look out the window. AT THE WORLD AROUND YOU.”

  15. Reply

    FoxyJ

    December 9, 2012

    I agree with you and wish I could keep electronics out of my house more. We have one old TV and no cable and my kids don’t spend a lot of time watching it. My philosophy is much the same as yours. But then my kids’ grandfather bought them each an iPod Touch this summer (yes, they are 9 and 6!). The iPods were super exciting for a few weeks, but now they mostly lie around forgotten. Thankfully. I did disable internet and YouTube on them, but mostly I just hate having something around that I’m going to have to monitor as they get older. Oh well. Not to mention the fact that they spend a lot of time with their dad and he has different rules and different media at his house. I mostly focus on teaching them to make good choices, helping them love to do other things besides screen time (and yes my house is always covered in LEgo and wads of paper and tape) and hope and pray for the best. Parenting isn’t easy, is it?

  16. Reply

    mama boss

    December 12, 2012

    amen! 🙂

  17. Reply

    Susan

    December 13, 2012

    Thank you for posting this. First, I tend to agree with both your parenting philosophy, but also your perspective that different families work things out very well in quite different ways. I’ve often felt reluctance to talk about how we parent (no tv, electronics, etc.) by using self-depracating remarks or justifying that our kids watch plenty of tv when they visit their cousins, because our reasons are complex and I fully understand that they don’t necessarily work for or resonate with others. I just know that what we do feels right for my personality and values and for those of my kids. I often second-guess my parenting choices (I wish my mind were more disciplined!), but then I see my three kids in a puddle of legos or snuggled reading a book and I’m pretty sure we’re doing something ok for our family. .. but I’m truly not imposing this approach on anyone else!:)

  18. Reply

    joanneke

    December 13, 2012

    Came home late last night and decided to see if there were any updates from you.

    And I so enjoyed reading this post. Because in my opinion it is so important for parents to set the boundaries for children. To say no to the things you think are not good for them – be that too many screens, phones, pocketmoney, distractions..

    Children thrive in a safe environment with clear limits. (someone once said that a good parent is like a safe wallpaper. always there but not in the center)

    And it is also good for them to realize that your household is a different one from the one of their best friend. With a different set of rules, restrictions, but also your very own joys and special things.

    I do enjoy reading your thoughts.

    love from Jo.

  19. Reply

    La Yen

    December 27, 2012

    I have been mulling this around for a while, and just showed it to my husband. (He is not pleased.) I want to have better and BE better for my kids–and I think that there are some whisperings in my heart I need to listen to. Thanks for this!

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