Last summer we started a policy in my house that I’ve tried very hard to uphold. We called it our “DSi-Free Day” referring to my kids’ Nintendo Gameboy systems. You might think of it more as a technology-free day. My kids were obsessed with their Nintendos. Those two game systems are throwbacks to when we had a dual-income and I had a spouse that was making pharmacist money. Needless to say, that loss has changed us financially as well as emotionally.
That obsession led to arguments and later fighting. The common denominator in all those fights was the games – fighting over who wins; fighting over who gets to play what character; fighting over trading games and then wanting them back. I’d love to take credit for this, I really would, but all credit goes to my mom, their grandma, who saw this issue coming to the surface. Again, I see the brilliance of an amazing parent helping me to be a decent one.
This year marked an even bigger change in their lives. We’ve turned it into a DSi-free summer. It’s totally an accident, it really is. I told my sons that this year we would get them the brand-new Nintendo 3Ds. I have to admit, it’s a pretty cool technology – 3D with no glasses, kind of like the old ViewMaster. The reason I bring this up is that your eyes had to work really hard with those old, red, binocular-style slide viewers. We loved them, but stare too long and your eyes strained. The new Nintendo has the same issue – use them too long and you can develop headaches. So I agreed, but we have a limit of a ½ hour each day on them. The other reason I agreed is another lesson: they get the new systems only if we can sell the old ones. Our goal is to offset some of that cost so that we’re not paying full price. We’re even looking at scratch-and-dent and used ones.
The bigger thing, though, is the amount of reading my kids have managed to do over the summer. Don’t mistake my meaning here: they read all the time. My sons’ biggest request over the summer was that I put their bookshelves up in their rooms. I read to them from birth to today.
We read a chapter of Harry Potter every night. My daughters have both read The Hunger Games. When I told my son, Sam, that I had found the newest edition of the 39 Clues books, he was happier than if a new Mario game had been released.
Reading sparks imagination. I’m not a snob, but turning pages and checking where you are in a book…that’s tactile and I still like it more than e-readers and so do my kids. My oldest daughter is reading Conan Doyle to compare it to Steven Moffat’s amazing TV series Sherlock. (No offense to all other versions…but it’s brilliant, by the way). My middle daughter came with me to a book signing of my friend James Rollins so she could get her version of his young adult series Jake Ransom signed. They recognize good writing and ignore bad writing. My sons have started writing their own “books” at home. They begged me to get library cards so their sister can drive them on the way home from school each week.
Could you do this? Would you have the courage to remove the technology, even for a day? Do you read to your kids? Do you talk with them about what they’re reading or who they like? It’s worth trying, mainly because I have noticed something else: we spend more time together. We eat dinner, go to the park, make s’mores after lighting a fire in the back yard – all without the technology to distract us.
Try it once a week. Technology free is actually time together, and it’s been far more beneficial than anything we’ve done before.
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins, is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.