Bricks and Devices: Helping Kids Experience Summer

I really don’t think we could have asked for better weather to kick off summer break. I should probably be wearing more sunscreen, but it’s been so nice to be outside the last six days.

I hope you’ll excuse the time I’m taking this week. I worked non-stop through May until the 29th, and so I’m taking this week to be quiet, to rebuild the Mahomet Daily website and to hang out with my kids a little bit. I’ll be back with some great stories shortly.

I am fortunate (and unfortunate) that my job is so flexible that I can pretty much work from anywhere at any time. This means that a lot of this summer (and summers past) I have enjoyed the sounds of my children while I sit on the couch to get things done. There are many days when their company seems like it is too much because of course, I have things I need to get done, but I also know that these days, the time I get to do this with them, is very, very quickly dwindling away. And I will never get that time back.

Because I am there with them, I get to see what they do and don’t do. Are they watching too much TV? Are they hanging out with their friends? Are they eating lunch? Have they brushed their teeth or showered this week? I actually don’t hover that much, but I am aware of what’s going on in their lives.

My son gets excited when I leave because he can sneak down on his computer. He’s the kind of kid who would be on his computer or phone all day every day if I let him. He spends endless hours taming dinosaurs and conquering countries. I will say that I don’t get it, but my parents also didn’t get why I liked to make a little man with a mustache jump over ducks with shells, either.

When he spends endless hours on the computer or on his phone, he gets very agitated about everything. I mean

So, this summer, I put a two-hour time limit on all electronics. And I’ll tell you what, there was some fight back. There were a few moments on the couch where he hid his face in the couch, then slinked onto the floor. There were tears. There were what if questions: “what if an alien comes into our house and tells me if I have to be on my computer for three hours or they are going to put a needle in my eye?”

Ok, that wasn’t a real question, but you’re a parent; you know what I’m talking about.

I told him that his existence, his identity, his value does not come from a device. Because my son is so intelligent, he is friendly, he can pick up a game in a matter of minutes, he is funny, and there isn’t a single attribute that comes out of him when he is on a device. It’s like he’s gone.

I am reading a book called, “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell right now. There is so much about this book that I love. About three-quarters of the way through the book he talks about the Tower of Babel.

The story tells us that instead of using stone to build the tower, the people construct bricks and use mortar. The bricks can all be the same size and shape so that they come together more efficiently, and the mortar holds the bricks together so that they do not fall down.

This was a new technology. Something wonderful for these people. Something that changed the way humans construct buildings. Something that is commonplace today, but was so revolutionary at the time.

From the beginning of time, humans have been building and constructing and challenging the boundaries of what we can make. There are new technologies born and built upon everyday. And I think that is so wonderful.

But, I would argue that, technologies prior to the technology we have right now were different. Those technologies could not become a part of us like personal devices can. You look at a brick or a spoon and you know that you have to do something with it. You get to make something else.

And yes, you can do that with personal devices. You can make endless amounts of cool and revolutionary things. BUT these technologies are more often used for endless scrolling, mindless watching or shopping than they are for personal or community betterment.

When my kids come home from school they often enter with caution because they know there is a good chance that there is something I want to talk to them about. A few weeks ago they came home and I asked them if they’d ever have a computer implanted into their head. That morning I read an article about how Elon Musk was developing a computer implant that would help humans evolutionize faster. He predicted the device would be available in four to eight years.

The girls said they would not have one implanted into their heads. My son said maybe. I asked him about what the device may or may not help him do. How it would change him. How it would change humanity. He’s 11, so he didn’t have mature answers; he said he would just be able to see screens in the air rather than having to have a device.

But I did continue to talk to all of them about priorities. I asked them to really think about what their priorities as individuals in a community of other individuals may look as they get older. And I asked them to consider holding onto those priorities forever, even as the world around us is changing.

Because I’d be foolish to say that it is not changing. But I don’t think our common change as people ultimately needs to be guided by technology. Technology, just like building the Tower of Babel, can be used for reasons that do not strengthen the common good, but strengthen power. The people building the tower of Babel were building it for a king who wanted to reach the Gods.

Our common change needs to be guided by our priorities as a people. Do you know what they are? If you look at what guides your day, does it align with your priorities? If you look at your community, does it align with our priorities? Do any of us operate on priorities anymore? Or do we just follow what is new and flashy and exciting?

I can’t answer the question for my children; I cannot tell them what they priorities are or should be. But instead of giving them endless time on a device, I can provide opportunities for them to have different types of experiences.

They can have space to invite their friends over. They can have bikes to go visit their friends. They can use the pantry to make whatever they like. They can use all of the items in the garage to build something.

I told my son that in ten years he’s not going to be able to have a conversation about how many dinosaurs he killed on his game. No one will relate and no one will be interested. But I’ll bet there’s a chance that in ten years he’ll get with his friends to talk about the fun they had on the lake yesterday. They talk about kayaking beneath the big blue sky with the most perfect clouds. They’ll talk about the dams they built along the shoreline. They’ll talk about getting onto the dock in the middle of the water and tying their boats up so that they could rest.

I hope this summer is full of all of those memories for him. I hope that he jumps into life like he jumps off the diving board. And he can only do that if he is alive, mind, body and soul.

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I may do it all, but I have not done it all.

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