When I was a kid, my sisters and I would play a lot of pretend games. We would often play “old timey” or alternatively, “future.” When we would play “future,” my favorite prop was a rectangular piece of cardboard I had turned into a magic touch-screen device that could access all information in every book every printed. Push a button, and this device displayed a map with a live update of the bad guy’s location.

This was in 1990 — before I or anyone I knew had heard of the Internet or had any idea that something like the iPad would be available for consumer use in my lifetime.

Lately, I’ve found myself having a lot of nostalgic conversations about those endearing curled telephone cords and writing research papers when the Internet was not an acceptable source to credit in your bibliography. I am very aware that my parents and their parents probably had very similar conversations (just insert different objects).


Photo by Brad Flickinger

My children won’t have a childhood like mine. I’m sure some of that is good – for example, there’s less income discrimination about access to information. There are so many more educational resources available to anyone with public library or internet access.

However, there are particular experiences I had growing up that had positive results on my character, social skills, and confidence, and I’m sad my children won’t have the opportunity to naturally experience the same situations. Most of these experiences I’m nostalgic for fall under the categories of boredom and having to independently solve problems without parents around.

And let me be clear, I’m no luddite. My 6 year old son knows his way around an iPad. For my day job, I spend lots of time staying savvy to changes in technology and digital communication. I appreciate being able to ask Siri for directions or for an update on the weather. I don’t think technology is ruining the world.

However, being able to access unlimited entertainment and information in the palm of your hand has changed so many cultural dynamics that it can be challenging for our children to naturally cultivate certain skills and abilities.

Instead of composing 140 character laments about life before cell phones, and memories of racing to look up words in paper dictionaries, I’ve decided to focus on the things I want my children to experience or learn, even if their technology-infused culture makes it more challenging for them than it was for me.


Photo by Robert Conley

Here’s my incomplete list of some things it seems were easier to learn before smart phones and the age of distraction. My goal is to be intentional to cultivate these values and skills in my children.

  • The importance of making it a priority to spend unstructured time in nature, no matter how old you are.
  • The ability to focus on one idea or concept for an extended period of time.
  • The value of working hard for hours on end to learn a new skill (like playing a musical instrument).
  • The importance of discipline and denying the ease of instant gratification, especially when it comes to purchases.
  • The importance of using your memory. Intentionally memorizing beautiful, meaningful words and the taking some time to try to remember information before just searching something on your smart phone.
  • Learning to confidently make independent decisions, not based on the opinions of other people.
  • The importance of social skills, being comfortable interacting with all different kinds of people in different settings. Being able to start and maintain a conversation with someone you’ve never met.
  • Being able to be at peace and observe what’s going on around you while sitting, standing or waiting in line.

This is a short list of things I’ve come up with so far.  I’m sure I’ll add to it as my children grow up, or even tomorrow. But part of the key here is that for my children to learn these things, I have to model them. These skills and abilities will not be learned without considerable effort because these days technology makes it so easy to not have to learn these skills.

I don’t expect these things to be mastered by age 10. I just want to plant seeds so that my children are not dependent on screens for all emotional and mental stimulation.

It’s now so easy to put in headphones and distance yourself from people only inches away. It’s so easy to get instant approval on your clothing/purchase/plans. (I confess I can’t get over the fact that it’s even socially acceptable to be gaming on your iPhone at a bar. Weird.)

I’m not saying there’s never a reason or place to just put on your headphones and tune out what’s going on around you. I’m not cautioning you to avoid texting a photo of your outfit to a friend to get their thumbs up or down. It’s just that these things are all so much easier than they used to be. This makes the alternatives more challenging to experience.

What do you want to make sure your children learn or experience, even though it may be harder to come by because of changes in culture and technology?