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In a world filled with computer distractions, it’s easy to rely on technology to babysit children, but is it healthy? Staring at a digital screen for long periods could cause all sorts of problems: eye damage, obesity, impeded brain development, sleep deprivation, aggressive behavior, MWR absorption. Knowing this, it’s easy to question: is all this ubiquitous exposure harmful?

Gen-X parents are the last folks to have lived the majority of their youth sans internet, providing a unique perspective. In truth, life before the internet wasn’t that bad. Sure, card catalogs were a nightmare. And you couldn’t notify your friends or family so conveniently as to your whereabouts, twenty-four-seven. However, this lack of convenience, in hindsight, had its benefits. Being unavailable, certainly made it easier to disconnect. You could focus better and be present, without the blips and bleeps of cell alerts demanding immediate attention. Though answers weren’t always at your fingertips, there was a certain magic in mystery. You didn’t know for certain who you would see when going to the arcade, mall, or neighborhood square; instead, you could anticipate, hope, plan, and be surprised.

Not that I would forgo technology, but let’s face it, we could survive without it for a time; enjoy a healthy break. Too often, it gets used by parents to replace quality time parents could be spending with their children. For parents who might want to connect with their kids more, while disconnecting, here are five tips:

1. Cook Together. Cooking with your children is a great way to connect, and it doesn’t have to involve the internet. You can refer to a cookbook, or if you must search a recipe online, do so then jot it down and turn those phones off! Cooking is a great way to teach kids how to fend for themselves (they have to eat somehow). Cooking is an essential life experience, and a fun one to share. Not to mention, you avoid the costs of eating out and the germs. Cooking together should increase the appreciation kids will have for eating, once the food is all done. Get extra good parenting points for using cooking as a teaching moment, to discuss where the food comes from. If you don’t know the source, make a point to research it later. Cooking is a great way to do something practical, fun, and tasty, as long as you don’t get too distracted searching through cooking videos or browsing the world wide web for recipes.

2. Sing Together. Singing together is fun and healthy. It’s easy, too, depending on your voice and volume. If singing is absolutely not your thing, however, you can play music together instead. You don’t even need instruments or skills. Tap away on your body, small inanimate objects (avoid glass), even your stomach, or clap your hands together (pots and pans will do too), until you rock out. The point is to make music; however, you can. It helps to release tension, makes you feel good, provides a great form of exercise while serving as an opportunity to bond.

3. Take a Hike. It’s fun and can allow you time to talk and to think, without phones or computers. Your eyes can relax, free of screen time, on whatever you see. If you’re in the park, you can watch the trees, point out the various types, check out the cloud formations, and the neighbor’s landscape (if it’s Christmas or Halloween, point out the decorations). Walking is not only good exercise — it’s a good technology-free way to spend quality time.

Listen to each other. One person talks, vents their feelings, anything that comes to mind, the good, the bad, the ugly, while the other person listens. This practice is about being present, not about offering solutions or turning it into a therapy session. Give your full attention to the other person, no matter what they are saying. At a loss for what to talk about? Feeling shy? Try describing what happened to you that day, or the day before, or the day before that. Write it down in letter form and read it instead. These listening exercises can help you to align yourself with your children’s hopes and dreams while discovering new ways to support them. But try not to judge or criticize, simply listen. Take a moment to thank them for sharing their thoughts and feelings, no matter what’s said.

Read a book. Reading aloud to children stimulates creativity, imagination, and understanding. It helps kids comprehend language and the written word. It teaches them ways to organize and to express their ideas. It develops important listening skills, which your children will use throughout their lifetime. Most importantly, it develops a child’s sense of empathy, as they try to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonists, imagining what it’s like to be them, cheering for them along the way. There are many ways to enjoy bonding with your children without relying on computers, the cell phone, or video games; reading is certainly a good one.

The point is to encourage your children to use their imagination to entertain themselves in healthy ways that do not always involve the latest, greatest, digital distraction. Though these are by far not the only solutions, they’re a great way to get started. If you’ve got other ideas, we’d love to hear from you.

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