Recently, my nine year-old and I had an argument about his behavior that culminated in the loss of screen time, including his iPad, for a couple of days. Since he relies on his iPad for watching back episodes of Wizards of Waverley Place from the comfort of his pillow-fort, this resulted in a Major Meltdown. That couple of days reminded me of an important thing that I'd forgotten: my kids need their pillow forts, but they sure don't need their technology. Heck -- neither do I.
One of the biggest blessings Burning Man bestowed on me was the gift of living tech-free for a week. To be greeted by people's eyes and bodies absent a phone in their line of sight is something now-foreign in our everyday life. Hey, I'm guilty, too; I carry my phone in my hand or back pocket most of the time. Its presence is a constant distraction. And I wonder: how many experiences have I missed because a little screen has kept me from looking up? (If you haven't seen the spoken word art piece about that, please click here; it's worth your time.)
Then, when this "give your kids a 70s summer" piece started floating around my Facebook feed, it all came together for me. I don't need the ideas in that piece -- and I don't care much for them, especially the part about unrestricted junk food when summer, to me, is about fresh food. (I mean, seriously, people -- 1/3 of American kids are overweight ... why, why, why must we always invoke junk food and fun in the same meme?!) Anyhoo, taken together -- reducing tech/screen time, looking up, and fresh produce -- well, those things, to me, are the ingredients for a perfect summer.
Limiting screen time can be hard. My kids will balk at forced togetherness in our house, but they won't when we're in our camper -- which has a space for a TV mount that I've purposefully left empty. Playing games, making s'mores, and reading Norse Myths aloud make for pretty awesome evenings together.
We can't camp all of the time, though, much as I'd like to, so what about home? Petunia just received her soccer training program in the mail from her future high school, and it's a doozy. It's time to run, and bike, and swim together. I love swimming in the gloaming, especially, just floating on my back for a bit and relishing nature's canvas of light. Biking the Baylands is always a blast, with so many different birds and animals to enjoy. As well, Petunia and I just completed our first 5K together, and, chances are, we can squeeze in another this summer. I'm hoping we'll have some pick-up soccer matches, too, which might be especially funny since I don't know how to play soccer at all; but I'm pretty sure she'll be patient with me if I just show up willing to try. Last, but not least: I'll challenge the kids to build another Roxaboxen, a past-time they enjoyed during many summers in Vermont. It's a good sibling-bonding activity, and, left to their own devices, they come up with some pretty ingenious commerce, especially, at this age.
As for food, forget junk: our farmer's markets come ablaze in the summer with every fresh thing in every color of the rainbow, and they're all delicious. There's no reason not to have an all-fruit lunch one day, or an all-veggie dinner. Steve Jobs apparently once served his family a meal consisting only of broccoli, which would sound weird only to a non-Californian. I guarantee you that the broccoli in that meal was the finest of the crop and likely stood on its own without adornment and with minimal preparation required. I almost can taste it. Summer is for peach juice dripping down little chins, salads on hot nights, tomatoes so delicious they're preferable to chocolate, and tiny hands shelling peas and snapping beans because even the youngest among us can participate in the joy of preparing food from the earth's bounty.
If we don't take the time to take our kids' electronics away for a bit, they might not see the beauty of the 3D world that they miss on their 2D screens. But the catch is that we have to remember to do it, too. When's the last time *you* looked up from your screen and saw something so beautiful that it took your breath away? If you can't remember, take a hike. Reach out for something you loved in your childhood that is still there for you to do. It's not that hard to find a rope swing over a lake; we can Google it. But our iPhones can't jump in with us, thank God, so, at some point, we have to unplug and take the plunge -- else there's a whole lot of joy we're going to miss. I'll never forget the look on my kids' faces last summer when I dove into the ocean with them to boogie-board. It was the first summer in which we could all swim well enough to really enjoy the surf. They were used to my supervision sea-side, but they weren't used to my own squeals of delight as I caught a wave. It would have been easy to send them out to play alone, and I did that plenty; but it's another thing to model unplugging and mindful presence, especially at play. I hope this summer is a lot more full of that and a lot less full of my demanding "turn it down!" or "turn it off!"
At the end of the day, recapturing a 70s summer doesn't come about via a checklist or a meme. It comes about by our intention. We didn't have loads of very expensive summer camps in the 70s. We just played with friends and in nature. We gardened. We read books. We swam and ran and biked. We played kick-the-can until it was too dark to see. Our kids can do these things, too, with a nudge and some limits on screen time. Without that nudge and those limits, we're killing their opportunity to learn to be bored and, from that boredom, to learn to create. I don't want to see a world where that's not part of childhood. And I'm pretty sure that the next great artist or great public intellectual or great entrepreneur won't come from being always-on; she'll come from being forced to turn off, look up, and notice something.