So how do we do this? I'm sure there are many approaches but all I can do is share some of mine.
1. Limit electronics - When the kids were younger, we did Popsicle sticks, each worth 30 minutes. They received a new batch each week. As they got older, it felt too childish and I expected them to be able to start self-managing a bit. But if they didn't, then I would hide the controllers or the power cord for a week or sometimes more. Always, we started off the first week of summer with "No Electronic Week" and would have it regularly throughout the year. Getting summer off to a good start was crucial for setting the tone of creativity.
What I discovered is if I said, "Enough electronics. Go outside and play." They would turn them off but they could not change gears. Their brain was still in the game. They were still thinking it was an option to return to the game later in the day and it was like they didn't want to "loose their place" in their strategy or location or whatever the game entailed. But if electronics was not an option for the rest of the day or an entire week, they could easily engage in something else. They would make up a new game on the trampoline, start a book, build a fort, play baseball, start a Monopoly game. Unplugging would unleash their creativity and increase their connectivity with their friends and each other.
2. Delay phones. Our oldest did not get his first phone until he was a sophomore in high school. The others it was 8th grade for a text only phone and high school for their first smart phone - but only if they could pay for it and the data plan. Truly, if I could do it again, I would push this decision off even longer. Smart phones are a bear to manage for a teenager. They are a constant distraction with notifications and access to way too much information through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, text messages, e-mail, Vine. Everyone's life at any given moment can be better or worse than ours, and is publicized for the world to see. It creates a constant swing between pride and envy and, in my opinion, sets kids up for an identity crisis.
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3. Talk about what they are exposed to. Drew and Dean were at an age when cell phones were just becoming part of children's lives. We postponed that as long as possible but for Grant, he was the last person in his class to get a cell phone in 8th grade. He now has a smart phone that he paid for. So now Grant and I have a LOT of discussions, mostly about identity. I have given up trying to control a 16 year old's access to his phone all day and work diligently and proactively to engage him in discussions about what things he is being bombarded with on that phone (as well as other media). We have had some great discussions about why people do what they do, post what they do and chase after the herd. We discuss what people who are driven by insecurity will do and why they do it. Junior High and High School has always been about identity. When I was young, the rumor mill was plenty active to spread the good and bad decisions everyone was making and influencing everyone to head down the same path of destruction - or not. Now the kids can have minute-by-minute reporting, live photos and 7 second full color videos of social drama, poor choices and victimization. The good news is you can also see feed from those who are making great choices, inspiring others and are going against the grain. As parents, we must encourage our children to be the latter and keep reminding them this is who they are!
4. Get them busy serving. This can look a lot of different ways. It might be volunteering. It might be getting a job. It might be chores around the house. It might be cooking the family meal. It really should mean all of the above. We have volunteered our boys to many people over the years. "If you need someone to mow your yard, take care of your plants or pets, shovel your drive, load your moving van, unload your moving van, babysit, give a tennis lesson, move furniture around, play guitar, help lead ministry etc. etc., please call us. We have big strapping young men at our house!" I have lost track of how many times we have sent the boys, often with dad leading the way, to help someone with a need for additional physical labor. We have sent them around the neighborhood with flyers offering help and posted their availability on Facebook (now that's a good use of electronics).
Children need REAL opportunities to serve. There are plenty all around. Some require more organization than others and some will appeal to one child, but not to another. But it is so important for parents to realize that for most children, this does NOT come naturally. They must be taught. And the way to teach them is to make sure they have opportunities. Real, vital, opportunities. Opportunities where they can see that their contribution made a difference in someone's life. The boys have returned from several excursions where they helped someone move in our out of their house saying, "I don't know how they would have done that without us." Playing a vital role in someone's life builds true identity and self-confidence.
Cooking the family meal is a daily need, vital to our family, and makes a real contribution to the family. It is a huge blessing and my children know it. It is a sacrifice of service on their part but they gain as well. They gain confidence, accolades, a skill, time to connect around the table, maturity, unselfishness, and the real, experiential understanding that they were created to contribute, create and make a difference. They learn the satisfaction of being a blessing. The Hey Mom I'll Start Dinner cookbook has become a powerful parenting tool in our home to give our sons the opportunity to establish their identity as one who is blessed to be a blessing and give them opportunity to practice.
Buy your copy now of Hey Mom I'll Start Dinner.