Protecting Childhood

Let kids be kids as long as you can.

I get it. Technology is here to stay. I’m a mere thirty-one years into this vapor of a life, and my generation is the last– ever to have a misty memory of life before smartphones and YouTube and following the virtual daily details of practically everyone you’ve ever met.

I’m not advocating a return to the dark ages before blogs and Bing. God has providentially placed us all in the culture He ordained for us. So we navigate the shifting tides, with trepidation, excitement, possibility, nostalgia. We must live. Right where and right when He placed us.

But, for the sake of humanity, what about the children?

We’re raising our own brood now; in November it will be six. And suddenly, we have to consider whether the screen-mediated life is the one we want for them. Does the inexhaustible, amazing internet enrich their lives more than it harms? It’s exciting to have Curious George and killer whales and carpentry lessons right at our fingertips. But the endless stream of information, advertisements, people and ideas–what is it doing to their brains and to their souls?

And so we parent with strict limits now, when our children are very young (our oldest is only six), hoping to foster them into sensitive, humane adults who can live responsibly with screens later. For now, our kids spend roughly four hours per month in front of a screen. Friday night is affectionately known as Family Movie Night. They debate all week which movie they want to see. It might be anything from 101 Dalmatians to Anne of Green Gables. They love movie night; it’s special because it’s rare.

They also love playing outside. They build forts. They plant acorns and diligently water them in the hopes of cultivating mighty oaks. They stage battles. Whether it is Davy Crockett fighting the Creek Indians or the Navy Seals fighting ISIS, our house is a perpetual war zone. They collect pet crickets. They paint dinosaurs and puffins and submarines. They create Multiple Random Things every single day.

And since we produced five of these rascals in five short years, they can easily get their social interaction from each other; they haven’t yet grown into the need for social media. They are up at the crack of dawn and often outside catching caterpillars before we are out of bed. They are genuinely happy, and literally never bored.

Every family is unique, and our approach may not work for others. Our policies are surely different now than they will be in a decade. Yes, our children will learn typing and email etiquette, and maybe someday they will blog or develop their own carpentry lessons for YouTube.

But for now, why not let kids just be kids? Why must they live on the cutting edge of insanity where we all now live? We hope to keep them young for a bit longer. And when the time comes to introduce them to the un-real reality of cyberspace, there will be restraints and filters and all kinds of loving protection. Not because we parent out of fear, but because we want to preserve their humanness.

We want them to know how to pray, to meditate, to reflect, to be alone, and to be quiet. You don’t learn that while swimming in the digital deep, with the waves of everything under the sun crashing over you, merciless and incessant.

As parents, let’s wade into this new ocean slowly and prayerfully.

April Lesh and her husband Ladd live in North Carolina, where they unsuccessfully raise chickens and kind of successfully raise children. April spends most of her time teaching short vowel sounds and Shorter Catechisms; she can be found occasionally at lifewithladd.wordpress.com.

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