Design the life you want
hi there. i followed the link from a friend for your first "Why I Don't Worry" post. awesome observations, and so relevant to me — a curmudgeony Luddite who very reluctantly has given in to the dvds for me two kids, who are just 2 and 4. i have often, in my attempts to accept the new screen age, compared it to books. i bet the old timers were outraged when books came along and people had their noses in them instead of engaging with the world and their family. same same.
everything you say rings so true in my ear, and i hadn't heard anyone else saying it, so it feels revolutionary.
but here's my question. movie watching and computer games are addictive. as in, they can suck you in and keep you there beyond what even actually feels good sometimes. when my kids just watch an hour or two of movies in a day, and they seem happy, i'm okay with that, but some days it's like once they start they can't stop, and by the end of the day they have spent 4 or 5 hours slack-jawed and stupid looking in front of the screen. i am prone to channel-surfing binges whenever i am around cable tv, and i know the feeling of too much.
you're comparison to sugar vs. broccoli is perfect, because screen time bothers me the same way sugar bothers me. it provides something to us that we naturally crave on an animal level, but in a form concentrated way beyond natural. i feel that our species hasn't had time to adjust, to learn to self-regulate. i could be wrong, but i am pretty confident that someone raised on all sugar and junk food wouldn't be interested in broccoli, because that all that sugar would have messed up their body so that it could no longer act in it's own self-interest. likewise, i think when someone watches too much tv, the idea of getting up to do something else sounds less and less appealing.
then again, maybe that's just the way that i myself feel about tv, because i was raised by tv haters/secret lovers. so i got the exact message you are talking about drilled into me. and now i'm drilling it into my kids. motherhood: i'm doing it wrong.
this is all not to diminish your posts which are truly wonderful and profound! but this issue is one that haunts me and i feel like i need help sussing it all out from someone who sounds as on top of it as you. so, what's your take on the addictiveness? am i making it up? — Calamity Jane
Thank you for the great comment.
I think you're absolutely right. Someone who is raised on sugar and junk food probably won’t be drawn to broccoli. They have no idea how good healthy food can taste, how good it can make you feel, how much more energy you have, etc. etc. etc.
In fact, it would be pretty silly for a parent to raise their child on Cheetos and Mountain Dew and think that they would just naturally gravitate on their own toward fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Therefore, if you think these things are important — if you think they are the key to a healthy lifestyle — you should incorporate them into your life and put them front and center. (And Jane, I'm talking general “you” from here on out — not addressing you specifically!)
In the same way, it’s easy to zone out and just become one with the couch. If your life is a big empty space with nothing else compelling or interesting going on, if you have no routine that regularly puts you outside, in the art studio, at the library, or with friends, you are probably going to be a lot more likely to just stay where it’s comfy and entertaining. With Cheeto dust on your fingers.
The key is to actively design the life that you want.
If your children grow up in a family culture that loves books and reading, that loves the outdoors, that values making and creating, those things will shape their day, their week, and their life. Your values determine (or they should determine) how you live your everyday life. You set the tone. Your life sets the example. Your choices set the example.
If you create a structure to your days that openly declares what is most important to your family (whatever that is: reading, writing, art, togetherness, the outdoors, science, travel...) and prioritizes those things, then TV and video games will be the small rocks and not the big rocks.
I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time because their days are full of reading, writing, creating, making, thinking, sharing. Video games become one of the ways they play, one of the ways they enjoy their hobbies, like history and science fiction. The video games fit in with the rest of their lives — not the other way around. Their priorities are already set. I don’t worry about movies and TV because my sons approach the media as adept storytellers themselves. They enjoy TV and movies, and then they take ownership. They like a TV show; they appropriate the characters for a comic book. They read a mystery; they want to write a mystery. They watch a movie; they want to make a movie. Their big rocks are in place. They are writers, filmmakers, artists, and big thinkers.
Everyone sinks into the couch now and then. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if I saw my kids getting off track, I would stop and examine our lives. What is happening with us that is allowing this to take over? What is not happening? Then I’d make a change.
When your kids are young, you have the wide-open opportunity to make your best life. As they get older, they’ll be much more resistant to change — they’ll want to cling to the familiar. So now is the time to think about your family culture — how you can make your daily life reflect your values. How you can make sure that you are spending your time on the things that are most important to you.
It’s true — TV and video games can be addictive. Bad food is definitely addictive. There are downward spirals wherever you look, and they lead to a passive, overweight, consumerist lifestyle. But the good stuff can be just as addictive. Healthy eaters crave healthy food. Kids who play outside every day crave sunshine and wind and trees. Readers crave books. Makers crave time to make. Artists crave time to create.
The antidote to sleepwalking through life is to wake up and realize you’re in charge. You get to decide what today is like, and tomorrow. You’re steering the boat.
One of the best lessons we can teach our children — slowly, over years of family life — is that they are in charge of their own lives. Learning is for them, so they can do whatever they want to do. Problems are inevitable. We are capable, and we can figure out a solution. We’re in charge of our own lives.
That feeling of control is the essence of happiness. So take control, and make your life the way you want it.