We need to unplug more often.

Science has already shown that the constant stream of data overwhelming us has altered the processes of our brains. What is it doing to our kids who grow up in this increasingly chaotic world?

Recently, we decided to drop our cable television service. It was hard, but only for a few days. We miss the shows we like, but with a digital antenna, we can still get half a dozen stations of regular network tv, although there isn’t much that we like to watch. We usually watched SyFy or Discovery network shows or The Hub. That’s it, but we needed digital cable to get many of the channels we wanted. We kept the cable internet, but we save $100/month by taking back the cable box. The cable was mostly on for background noise.

We need some form of entertainment on occasion, however, so we picked up a Roku box and signed up for Netflix and Amazon Prime. Now, we don’t have to miss the shows that we really like but don’t need any of the hundreds of other idiotic shows out there.

I also keep the tv off more often now, and you know what?

We don’t miss it, and I have seen that my kids have benefited. That’s right. I grew up with four tv stations, no cable and before the internet. We lived on a farm and had to work or use our imaginations to figure out a way to pass the time. I created stories with my brothers and acted them out or played with toys that didn’t do stuff on their own because of microchips and batteries. We didn’t have money, so we made do with what we had, which is where I became so involved with horses.

My kids are normally very creative; every child is if given the chance. My kids have electronic gadgets, like one of my old laptops, a 3DS, Leapfrog devices, and ereaders. However, there are restrictions on what we allow and they’re actually not always interested in playing on them. We’ve tried to encourage our kids to play with friends–one is a social butterfly, so she BEGS to play with her friends–and to use their own imaginations. These kids come up with the darndest ideas! Then again, our kids have been brought up with movies and tv like Avengers, Justice League, Lord of the Rings, Stargate, Farscape, etc. so you can see where they get some of their wild ideas. No dramatic, whiny teen shows allowed in this household.

My kids also have had responsibilities in the form of chores since they were two, starting with picking up their toys. That progressed to folding their own clothes by the time they were four, then emptying the dishwasher by the time they were each four or five, and has expanded to include cleaning their bathroom (parts of it), cleaning windows, vacuuming, and so on. They know if they don’t, beloved toys will get taken away.

However, when toys get taken away, they find some other way to fill the gap. The day after I took the cable box back to the company, they took a bunch of cardboard waiting to be recycled and made swords and shields (with a little of daddy’s help). A friend posted a picture of his son on Facebook. His son had misbehaved and had his computer taken away, so he made himself a pretend computer, complete with cardboard USB receiver. My girls most recently converted more cardboard into cat houses, one with a tiny yard fence, for our cats. (I finally took the cardboard to the recycle place.) Our tape supply was severely depleted.

That’s the point I’m trying to make. Unplug yourself and your kids. It won’t be easy and you don’t have to go completely off the grid, but just fill your surroundings with silence and soon your mind will fill with ideas. Readers know how this works. Readings is a solitary activity that takes us away from all the noise and lets other ideas fill our heads. This is how I can get so much writing in. I need the silence to work, because silence really is golden. Silence is the key to true creativity.

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3 Responses to unplugged

  1. I think one of the most critical things for a healthy person (adult or child) is idle time. That means no smart phones, no computers, and just a chance to play. The first time EDM grabbed some fake food from his fake kitchen and had a fake meal, I was estatic. Because he was using his imagination instead of being fed what he should be seeing/thinking.

    I have an hour walk a few times a week at work. It is a nice little 5 km walk and no one will walk it with me (apparently sub zero temperatures are “uncomfortable” or the lack of sidewalks on semi-busy roads, but I digress). I listen to music to drown out the noises, but otherwise it ends up being just me and my head and my imagination. I get to play around in those times, working on chapters, having daydreams, and just letting things happen as they do. It is utterly fantastic.

    (Sidewalks would be nice… or maybe some shade.)

    The hardest part is that I’m always working on things: a novel, a program, something. And while I’m happy with just putting Pandora on the Roku and plugging away, EDM does a much better job since he putzes around on his own and occasional reaches up, grabs my hand and tugs me away. And, since the beginning, I’ve given him much of the same veto powers that I give SMWM. Which means, I get off that computer and play with him for a while.

    In other words, I completely agree.

  2. Sandra shreve says:

    Melanie you have given me a wonderful idea that i never thought of! My son loves to get outside and build forts, make swords out of whatever he finds, plays batman & Robin, Spiderman, etc…my daughter on the other hand has become lazy and only wants to lay around and watch TV no matter how hard i try to get her to go outside or to use her imagination to do anything else. I can do without the TV although i would definetly miss my Dr. Who and a few other shows i watch but notbing that would kill me. I think it’s time for us to unplug as well in this household and let my children learn to have real fun the way i did when i was growing up!!

  3. Melanie says:

    @ Dylan –I don’t know how many times I’ve taken my music player out on walks only to leave it off. Sometimes I want noise, but more and more often I prefer to go without adding any to the world around me. It’s more peaceful and I find less distracting. While I walk outside, I come up with some of the best ideas for writing or fixing an issue in a current project. With spring coming, I should be able to get back to that. I keep a pen and small notepad in a jacket pocket for those bursts of ideas that work out so well.

    @ Sandra–Good luck! It isn’t easy. But you don’t have to go completely without. If you have internet, which you obviously have, and a device that can use Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc., you can still get the shows you like, just not exactly when they’re on. I’ll have to live without DW myself, just until the newest season is available on one of those services, or until we just buy them on DVD ;)

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