I’ve had lots of questions recently about my parenting ideas, especially when it comes to electronics, so I thought I’d answer the most common questions in one post. I want to emphasise that this is what works in our family and for our children. I know it won’t work for every family… and it may not work forever for us. As our children grow, so will our parenting style. Below are some answers, and as always I welcome your thoughts and comments.
1.) Do your kids ever watch TV?
Almost never, except for the World Cup and the Olympics. But let me explain a bit… Both my husband and I grew up in big families and in homes without cable TV. Growing up, my family had a really old television that on good days, broadcast three channels. As a young child, I watched the occasional Sesame Street show, and sometimes, if the antenna had blown in the right direction, we could watch cartoons on Saturday morning with clear reception. Watching TV was not something we did as a family. Instead, we played a lot outside (I grew up on a farm), and we played a lot with each other (a benefit of having loads of siblings). Apart from the odd conversation where I couldn’t contribute my views on Doogie Howser or the Wonder Years, I don’t think I missed anything. I am really thankful for a childhood filled with imagination and adventure and I hope to create the same sort of upbringing for my own kids.
We don’t have some absolute no-television-whatsoever rule. We have a TV. We just aren’t really interested in TV. And we keep it in a cupboard—out of sight, out of mind. I also encourage my kids to play and find creative ways to entertain themselves without a screen. There was a short period when we allowed the boys to watch Scoobie Doo on Saturday mornings. After a few months I started noticing that, instead of crawling into our bed and enjoying a slow-paced morning, they would wake up and run straight downstairs to sit in front of the television. They stopped helping to make pancakes, couldn’t be bothered to set the table, and were cranky at breakfast time. It was then I decided that I prefer Saturday mornings without Scoobie! It really only took a couple weeks to break their interest and they went back to helping with the pancakes.
We DO let the kids watch the occasional movie, usually an old Disney classic (Robin Hood, The Rescuers, Peter Pan!) or one of the pretty films by Hayao Miyazaki, etc. In my dreams we would live in Australia or somewhere sunny and my kids would play outside and would never sit in front of a screen. But… a good family film on a cold, dark winter’s day is a nice treat every once in a while. Now that my kids are on school holidays I’m looking forward to the next rainy day so we can all sit down and watch ‘The Sound of Music’. My favourite!
2.) How do you keep your kids from the commercialisation of Disney? Do they ever ask you to buy them t-shirts with Disney princesses or super heroes on them?
I think I’m lucky with this one in that my kids never ask me for Disney t-shirts or Disney toys. Living in Europe I think we have less exposure to these things (and they don’t see them on TV). We also try to keep our kids out of shops. Most of our groceries are bought online, clothing is bought when the kids aren’t around and we avoid malls at all cost (which is easier to do when you live in a big city).
Even if they were to ask, I’d be unlikely to buy these things (mean mama, I know). Perhaps they don’t ask because they know they won’t get, but I like to think they are generally not interested. Here again, our policy is not absolute. I once bought Ivy some Hello Kitty underpants and this year I bought some miniature ‘Frozen’ figurines for the Advent Calendar. But… I rarely buy the kids anything pink or plastic, branded or battery operated, and I hate the idea of kids being sold to everywhere they look or feeling like they must have the latest branded toy.
It’s not always easy (given my business), but we try not to make a big deal about ‘new’ things—especially clothes or toys. We hardly ever give them a new toy unless it’s a special occasion, like a birthday or Christmas, and even then we only give them a few things, placing emphasis on quality over quantity.
My kids are young and so I’ve been able to influence their wants for now. I know that may change someday and so will my strategies, but I hope the values will stick with them.
3.)Do you let your kids play electronics? Do you bend the rules for educational games on the iPad?
Not really. We believe electronics are addictive. No matter if it’s a Nintendo game or an educational one on an iPad, once picked up they are hard to put down. And you rarely walk away from a long session on a device feeling wonderful—mostly the opposite. I notice this firsthand — I have to give myself breaks from my iPhone and remind myself to be more present. Like other addictive things in our lives, limiting our children’s exposure to electronics just makes sense to us.
We also believe they get only one childhood and the rest of their lives to be tethered to a device if they choose. Their education, their careers and their social lives may demand it some day, but for now we would love for them to find joy in the ‘real’ world. And most importantly — play together! Every once in a while, they will ask to play a game on the iPad or watch a movie because they are bored. When I tell them to go play, they might moan for five minutes, but then ten minutes later I’ll find them building towers or playing games together. If we gave our kids an iPad every time they told us they were bored, there would be far less imaginative play in this house!
As above, we know this all will change someday. Already Easton has math homework on the computer three times a week and I’ve noticed how it has changed the play in our house on those afternoons. As our kids grow our parenting style will grow with them, but we will always maintain our focus on family, friends, nature and activities.
4.) Do your kids fight? Do they moan? Do they throw fits? Do they nag, make messes, and sometimes torment each other?
Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. Do I feel compelled to reach for my camera in these moments? No. Does anyone? My photos are about celebrating the joys of bringing up kids — the simple and the beautiful things in life. I would never pretend parenting isn’t hard work. It is. It is the most difficult and the most important work in our lives. I choose to focus on the positive side of family life and I hope it comes across as honest and loving (and hopefully inspiring too).
p.s. I’ve written before about electronics here, a post which stirred up quite a healthy debate!