children question markI asked a group of teachers that I have worked with over the span of eight years this question, “Do you feel the way you teach kids has changed in the last ten years?”  All responded with a resounding, “YES”.  We used to be able to teach students for a consecutive 30 minutes, that window has now closed to aproximately 5 minutes – and for me that’s teaching dance, not math!  Boredom in school is rising. Children are more stressed and anxious than ever. What happened in such a short period of time?  Most teachers feel that screens have had a large part to play, with the iPad and iPhone making a huge market debut in the past eight years.

I have my theories on screens you will hear about in a further post, but for now I feel the dynamic shift in children today can be found in a deeper place than screens.  It’s something that even we as adults have neglected to give ourselves, thus preventing us from experiencing freedom from stress that we deserve, along with our children.

That one thing we are not giving ourselves and our children is downtime.

Now you may think, “I have plenty of downtime”, however, my question in response is, “What are you doing with your downtime?”  TV?  Scrolling through Facebook?  I’m sorry to say, that’s not downtime.  Although it seems like “brain-dead” activity, your brain is very much “on” during these types of activities. When children play on iPads or video games, they aren’t resting, they are almost overdosing on dopamine levels (that feel good hormone that keeps us wanting more stimulation) as well as using the fight or flight part of the brain which doesn’t add to healthy brain integration.  This isn’t necessarily wrong, but it has serious implications if consistently repeated and if it’s what we are considering “rest”.

Typical North American family day: Wake children up, rush to get dressed, eat, brush teeth and out the door for school and work. Mom or Dad may have to bark out commands like a song on repeat in order to see children out the door. Hop in the mini van only to realize someone forgot their lunch.  Rush back in the house, retrieve the lunch, and speed to recover the 5 minute commute time lost.  Drop the kids at school, parents head to work.  All have a full day of engagement of people, tasks and routine.  Hop back in the mini van only to wait in traffic to pick up children either from school or after school care.  Kids come home wiped from the day to their electronics so parents can figure out what to whip up for dinner.  Sometimes it’s drive through to get kids to soccer, dance, music, or other extra cirricular activities which involves yet more driving. iPads, iPhones help children cope with the continual commuting.  Family comes home and crashes, exhausted from the day only to press repeat the next day.

We were never meant to keep this kind of pace.  Adults find it hard, kids suffer harder.  The average amount a father talks to his children a day is 10 minutes.  Compare this to a father in early Russia where a father would spend a few hours of meaningful conversation with his children they called “soul talk” (Robert Bly, Sibling Society).  Children need language and conversation in order for their brains to develop.  They need adults to talk to them about family, God, desires, failures.  Children who don’t get rich conversation from adults never learn to distinguish emotions.  You could say today’s youth are experiencing an epidemic of empathy. They literally don’t know how to relate to others emotions.  They are numb from the withdrawal of positive adult interaction and community participation in their lives.

Both children and adults need downtime free from responsibility, screens, social media and tasks to be able to rest, explore creativity, take a walk, connect with loved ones, take a break from being “on”, having to perform and just “be”.  To come back to a place where belonging and safety create a blanket of refuge to refresh the soul from the day. To be able to play and laugh.

I ask myself on the daily: did I laugh with my children today?  Did they experience freedom of play and creativity?  Did I?  If not, then I owe it to myself and them to create space for this.  That means saying “no” to what society has said is normal, and saying “yes” to what truly is healthy.  This looks different for every child and family, but the need remains the same: downtime is key to mental and family health.  Your children do not need to run around everywhere, getting involved with everything and neither do you.  I actually had a conversation with a friend about just this where she pulled her kids out of competitive sports that was demanding sometimes up to five nights a week from her family.  I love what she said about extra-cirricular overkill, “You can’t have my family”.  Many caught in the rat race of “busy” don’t realize we actually have the option to say “no”.

Our children need more time for unstructured playtime where they have to figure out what to do.  Children today have NO IDEA how to do that.  We have scheduled them silly, exhausted ourselves giving them numerous options for entertainment, and what have we created?  Stressed out kids who only know instant gratification.  Kudos for our effort Gen X parents, but this isn’t what our kids need.  My friend shared this quote with me that I feel is fitting, “The greatest failure in life is succeeding in something that doesn’t matter.”  We’re succeeding in giving our children opportunities we never had, but now they’re stressed out.

So, how can you slow down your life and make it more simple?  How can you find more time to sit and have meaningful conversations, allowing for more breathing space to ease anxiety and bring a greater sense of wellness to your home?  These are some ideas.  I would love to have you add to the list in the comment section.

  • – Start with your personal current schedule and evaluate.  What are some things that you cannot change, such as your job?  Perhaps a change of job is possible to create more space?  Sometimes it’s not, but there may be opportunities to make work more flexible.  Just a minor adjustment can make all the difference.  How about your own personal activities outside of family and work?  Are they serving you and your family or are you serving them?  One thing I have loved about having kids is that I have had to narrow down my interests to the things that truly mean something to me, rather than involving myself everywhere.  Whatever brings me the most life hasn’t been axed, everything else has.  This kind of focus has been invigorating.
  • – Look at your family’s schedule and evaluate.  What’s one thing your children love to do?  Create space in your weekly calendar for your children to enjoy that one thing and have the rest of the evenings/weekends off.
  • – Don’t be afraid of the statement, “I’m bored”.  Gen X parents tend to jump through hoops for their kids when they hear this.  We medicate our children from the “bored virus” with screens, outings, and suggestions that kids don’t know how to figure out their own creativity.  We need to allow them to feel the tension of boredom to make room for the innovative mind to manifest.  Wait for it…
  • – Meet your neighbours.  I remember my street growing up.  There was eight children within four houses.  Our motto was, “You’re a kid, I’m a kid…. wanna play?”  Sometimes all our kids need is the spark of other kids on the street to invite playtime back.  Even my pre-teen son enjoys my kindergarten son’s friends!  He never says “no” to a game of hide and seek when initiated.
  • – Make family connection a priority.  Go on a walk, sit down and talk with your children, play a game.  Be available.  I make it a priority to not be on my own screen while my children are home.  I enjoy sitting outside listening to the birds and seeing my children come out to just sit with me.  If we are always busy even at home, it defeats the purpose.
  • – Find curiosity and creativity again.  The world is spectacular and you are creative.  You will be surprised at the life you find when you discover this, and your children will follow your lead.
  • – Always keep looking for ways to guard simplicity.  Guard it with your life.

It may not be easy at first, but I can say as a recovering “go-go-go-aholic” that it becomes the breath of fresh air you and your kids will never want to lose.

How about you?  How do you give yourself and your children downtime?