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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Unplug to Plug In with Children

Jul 24, 2013 03:31AM

A 2013 Organic Trade Association study reports that more parents buy organic food for their children and 81% have at least tried it. The industry grew from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. Parents are clearly being more conscious than ever about what goes into their children’s bodies to help them grow and develop. Yet in my work as an educator, I am concerned that parents are being much less mindful and proactive about what is being absorbed by their children’s young minds. 

Whether it’s television, computers, handheld game devices or smartphones, children spend more time wired in than ever before. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven and one half hours a day with electronic devices, up from six and one half hours a year before. Much of the content being consumed is geared to commercial aims, versus nourishing a child’s mind.

While researchers continue to study and debate the larger effects of extended exposure to technology, we can simply pay attention to what our children are exposed to and the effect it may have on family relationships. Parents often tell me it is difficult to speak with their child without an electronic device being negotiated as part of the conversation. Has anyone not felt guilty at times for interrupting their child’s media use? 

Technology is an increasingly prominent part of daily life. Our children need to be technologically savvy to prepare for the jobs of the future, whatever they might be.  Much of children’s time is spent communicating with friends via text, chat, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. 

It is difficult to balance time with technology and time with family, outside of the reach of technology, yet that is the challenge I invite parents to embrace. The prize to be won is priceless: ensuring we instill in our children the values important to the families they will one day create for themselves. We can begin by examining our adult relationships to electronic devices. Do we really need to be plugged in from the moment we wake up to the time we turn out the lights? Or can we become more mindful of how consumed we ourselves are by technology and begin to intentionally tune out?

In the 1960s the organic food industry had such a small market share it could barely be called fringe. Yet today, parents everywhere carefully read ingredients before deciding what to buy and pay extra for food that is free of chemicals and pesticides. This awareness and commitment developed over time through myriad conversations, articles and social actions by concerned citizens. Now there are community gardens in inner cities, farm markets in parking lots and bulk purchase programs for local organic produce. Let us adopt a similar mindset when it comes to feeding the minds of children (and ourselves) in an organic way. The technology that dominates our lives has arrived so quickly and with such force, I believe we are just now trying to come to grips with it. 

Taking easy steps at home can help revive family bonds free from technology. Reconnect by turning off all electronic devices in the household for a specified period of time in which family members talk, share a meal, play board games, make art or music, read or do other reflective activities. Start small in the amount of time and work up from there. Empower everyone to hold each other accountable if someone tries to cheat. For an even deeper reconnection, consider practicing three minutes of silence each day, beginning with three mindful breaths. You will rediscover the power of being still and the joy of doing it together. Go on an excursion into nature. Bring only a cell phone, in case of emergencies (battery charged and turned off). Leave all other electronic devices behind. Breathe the air and feel the sun’s rays. Get muddy, and then clean off in the stream. Play with the dog and have a meaningful talk on the way home. Begin an ongoing discussion with your family members and fellow parents about the power of technology in our lives. Include the good points but use this opportunity to explore your own challenges with unplugging. Communicating reflectively about technology is a mark of progress toward disengaging.

When viewed dispassionately, technology is simply the latest evolution of a set of tools for humanity’s use. As such it should be used to enhance, edify and nourish our lives. Where it does not, its purpose is lost and so are we.

Andrew Kutt is the founder and head of Oneness-Family School, an international, progressive Montessori school in Chevy Chase, MD for children age 2 through Grade 8. For more information, visit.

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