Balanced, or Teetering?

Parenting often feels like walking a tightrope. Without a balance pole. Meeting physical needs of growing bodies can alone feel like an insurmountable challenge. That pair of shoes you just bought last month that already don’t fit. The three hundred dollars worth of food that didn’t last a week. Then there are the emotional needs, theirs and yours. Because in the middle of all the midnight wake-up calls you might lose your sanity. One of the most difficult juggling acts of 21st century parenting is the seeming war between the digital world and the physical world.

With digital technology at the center of almost every occupation, and surrounding every aspect of our lives, we have an urgent need to teach our children how to use it, to wire the areas of the brain stimulated by its use to employ the digital world without becoming sucked into it. At the same time, all the skills previous generations possessed to interact with the physical world must also be preserved. Not just the skills of interpersonal communication without the aid of a keyboard, but basic skills and knowledge of the earth’s practical workings. Its a lot of information to cope with, and often the two worlds seem so opposite that they cannot be reconciled.

So, like everything else, these become family affairs. Minecraft wars with Dad become the preferred recess activity. Old phones get wiped and become tablets filled with games, music, approved video content, and books. Always books. Screen limits don’t apply to reading. Imagination runs wild and ingenuity is trained in the midst of shouts of laughter and good-natured competition. Technology usage becomes irrevocably connected to memories of family and lessons learned gently.

When school is over, with the sun at its warmest and responsibilities fulfilled, the outdoors calls. Those creative connections teased by the digital world are tested against the physical one. The flotsam of the passing winter becomes the building material of childhood games. Sprouting plants will be examined, tested in mud pies, and transplanted into fairy gardens. Fallen branches will become the tools of the trainee woodsman, deadwood and rocks a boy’s rickety fort which will fall down and be rebuilt more securely from the mistakes of the first. Emerging insects and amphibians find temporary homes where they are studied and cared for until the dusk brings release.

Tomorrow it will rain and there will be no outdoor afternoon play. Perhaps they will be lost in the digital world longer than today; perhaps they will transfer their creative energy to dolls, legos, or art. Maybe we will use the extra time for a more thorough cleaning day. Another day will be too beautiful for concentration, and not only the digital world but physical responsibilities will be discarded, forgotten for the joys of dirty hands and outdoor adventures. The acrobat teeters from one side to the other, almost plunging to the ground below with every step, yet using the swing back and forth to stay balanced on that tiny wire that connects us to platform from which our children will be able to stabilize themselves and begin on their own tightrope walk.

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