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Skills I want my children to have

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).

kid-on-ipadPhoto 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.

kids-sunsetPhoto 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?

Reading Time:

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  1. Kate

    I really connect with the list you came up with as these are definitely goals/values that my husband and I not only have for our kids–but ourselves too! I’d add a good sense of direction, which isn’t necessarily something I can teach, but I feel like the more time we spend outdoors–and NOT driving everywhere, the better sense of place of my kids will gain thus giving them more confidence to navigate their own world. Love your post!

    • Elizabeth

      I agree!! I just sent this article to my husband and said the same thing. I have to make a conscious effort to just “be” whenever i have a down moment or sitting at a redlight. Its so easy to pick up your phone and do mindless scrolling. I can imagine that its only going to get harder for my kids to master this “skill”.

  2. Lori

    * Learn to use a map, not just a GPS
    * Know that when family and friends are visiting, we look at people, not screens
    * Keep yourself off the internet (photos, videos, etc.)

    I LOVE all of your points, as well.

  3. Paula

    This is a great thing to think about as I try to be intentional with teahing my children. I think the thing that I want my children to be able to do is ask for help, to be dependent somewhat, knowing they can’t do everything on their own, and that community is important. I remember a time before cell phones, we would have to ask the neighbors for something. We would have to stop at the gas station and ask for directions somewhere.
    It’s somewhat easy to live in our own little world and not know the neighbors living next door. I want them to be different, to need people and be one that meets needs of people.

  4. Steph

    I’ll 2nd (3rd?) the sense of direction idea. iPhones die and GPS can stop working. A good sense of direction is invaluable.

    The ability to stay off all devices for an extended period of time on a regular basis. We try to do 24 hours without electronics once a week. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but we really try to make it a priority.

  5. gina

    i never knew how important scouting would be for my son. Geocaching, Orienteering (maps, compass use), Pioneering, Wilderness survival, as well as more modern fare like Gaming, Computers and S.T.E.M. related merit badges have shaped a well rounded education. The fact that scouts emphasize religion is even added bonus. I used to think erroneously that they just camped and fished. Happily, they have caught up with the times and I would recommend scouting to any mom who wants there son or daughter to have a taste of tradition in a modern world!

  6. se7en

    Oh I like this, real life lessons that kids really need to know. I love your last point: “Being able to be at peace and observe what’s going on around you while sitting, standing or waiting in line.” This is such a fundamental skill… and one that we have worked hard to teach our children… just to be. I have had the same sort of post on my mind and wrote about se7en+1 life skills I would like my kids to learn before they leave home:

  7. Susan Hauser

    I made sure my daughter learned the value of a handwritten letter. Now she’s 20 and living on her own for a semester in Europe, and it is so gratifying to get letters from her (we get lots of texts, too!) and to hear from my parents and her aunts and uncles that they have also received letters from her–to see how happy that makes them is wonderful. Texts are great, they really are, but when I see that half-woman/half-child’s familiar scrawl on a postcard–well, there’s nothing quite like it.

  8. Emma Fowle

    Awesome post! I wrote a similar post on the merits of learning outdoors on my blog recently after we completed a strawbale roundhouse build as part of a Forest School programme at my Daughter’s school. I’d add: To be able to grow something they can eat (even if it’s just tomatoes in a grow bag or herbs in a pot, there is something beautiful about the miracle of growing, that grows patience and tender loving care in us too) and Being able to sit at a table and enjoy a meal and hold a conversation (without the distraction of a smartphone or gaming device). It distresses me to see so many kids these days on screens in restaurants. When did we lose the art of conversation, or just sitting still and behaving for a short while?

  9. Katie Harding

    Love this post! We are trying to making a good effort in our house of having good old fashioned fun as well as screen time. Like, we make the boys play with legos or draw rather than just playing on their Ipad or watching TV. It is amazing that my 3 year old knows more about my Ipad than I do……

  10. Jody

    I have friends who have a basket by their front door. When you come to visit them all the cell phones, ipods, Ipads, etc. get put into the basket (after they are shut off). When you leave you are allowed to pick up your device(s) again. The gist is that when you are in their home you are their to interact with them and not with electronic devices. I love this concept.

  11. Missy Robinson

    I want my children to know how to work, to see a hard task and not give up but buckle down and do it! Think raking a whole yard of leaves, putting all the dishes in the dishwasher and finishing the ones that didn’t fit by hand, having a only so much money to keep the car gassed up for the rest of the week.

    I want them to embrace free time, not as boring, but as down time of possibility, when anything can happen or nothing at all.

    I want them to know how to invite others into our home, to treat them well and conversate.

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