By MIKE KAHLICH  |  Moonshine Ink

So, here we are. Everyone is addicted to their smartphones, tablets, laptops (on which I type this), and Netflix. How many times have you been at a restaurant and the lovely couple at the table next to you has their noses buried in their smartphones? Or the family that has a tablet for every kid at the table, because, heaven forbid, the kids might get bored while they wait for their meal. How many tweens and teens go to a friend’s house and bring their devices with them?

Are we losing something? Definitely.


“Our relationship with nature,” Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, writes, “is not only about preserving land and water, but about preserving and growing the bonds between us.”

Most parents I know would never give their 4-year-old a Coca Cola, yet they readily hand over their smartphone once their child starts to “act up.” Oh, the slippery slope of the digital babysitter! The more your children use it, the more they want it, and the behavior ramps up to get what they want. And, why should they change? If crying or whining loud enough gets you daddy’s smartphone or your tablet time, why would you change?

When my son was three years old and started throwing a tantrum or fit, my wife and I would scoop him up and go outside. Ahhhhh, outside.

“The pleasure of being alive is brought into sharper focus when you need to pay attention to staying alive,” Louv writes.

We’d start with a brisk walk with our struggling toddler in our arms. Brisk walk into the forest. Set him down. Walk away about 20 paces. And watch. He’d scream, cry, pout, run, etc. Too many big emotions with nowhere to go but OUT! And, nature never judged or told him how to be. Nature just is. And that nature seeps in and it usually only took 10 to 20 minutes of Vitamin N(ature) for his emotional balance to be restored. I can’t imagine how he’d be if we had distracted him with a highly addictive video device. How would he learn to self regulate? How would he learn that his disruptive behavior wasn’t ok if he was getting a reward? (Talk about mixed messages!)

Time and again my wife and I have taken small children aged 6 months to 5 years (we own and operate Papoose Preschool) into the forest for their daily dose. So many children are rushed through their day with little control and then … how do they cope? How do they process being dropped off at daycare/preschool? Vitamin N is the answer. I can’t tell you how many times nature has helped a young person turn that frown upside down. All on their own. How empowering!

“To be fair, a list of bad side effects, like the warning labels on the packaging of pharmaceuticals, do not tell the full story. The point isn’t that technology is bad, but that daily, monthly, yearly, lifelong electronic immersion, without a force to balance it, can drain our ability to pay attention, to think clearly, to be productive and creative. What to do? Match screen time with stream time,” Louv says. “Research suggests that the best antidote to the downside of electronic immersion will be an increase in the amount of natural information we receive. And let’s go one step further: Children and adults can develop ‘hybrid minds’ by seeking the benefits of both virtual and natural reality.”

As a preschool teacher and a father I tend to pay attention when the American Academy of Pediatrics updates (finally!) their media use guidelines which were first put into place in 1999. You can check out their interactive Family Media Planning Tool online. (Oh, the irony.)

Among the AAP recommendations:

•  For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming (think education-oriented apps and networks like PBS), and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.

• For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should coview media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

• For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.

• Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

• Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

My son is now 13 and loves his media time as much as the next kid. But, he recognizes how addicted his classmates are to their phones and he notices that when the devices are out and about, things aren’t so fun. He respects (mostly) the media plan we made as a family and he continues to amaze me with his offline creativity and self sufficiency.

Do the AAP’s Family Media Plan (can’t hurt, right?), and get your vitamin N.

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