We live in an age in which we never really need to leave our own homes or have any face-to-face interaction with other people. We can order everything from books to groceries on the Internet and chat with people we’ve never met on social media networks. We can also see the world right from our desktop. Whether it is watching the Olympics or looking at fine art on a museum website, we can learn so much from our own computers.
So, why should we be concerned about the amount of time our families spend online? Why should we try to expose our children to real experiences when we can sit in front of our computers in the comfort of our own home?
The Virtual World Doesn’t Involve All 5 Senses
My children enjoy bowling on the Wii. It is a fun way to pass the time, but virtual bowling is not at all the same at going to a bowling alley. You don’t feel the weight of the ball or hear the sounds of the entire alley with its din of people cheering and clapping as pins fall in other lanes. You might be glad you don’t have to wear those horrible rented bowling shoes, but you don’t get to hear the click of your feet as you walk up to the lane. Real bowling is a richer experience for the senses than virtual bowling.
The Virtual World is Two Dimensional
We can look at pictures of a skyscraper in New York City, but until you stand at its base and look up, you cannot imagine just how large it is. We can see what a sculpture looks like, but unless you visit a sculpture garden or museum, you cannot see every side in the way the artist intended. The virtual world is flat in more ways than one. The grandeur and beauty of the real world are unmatched in the virtual world.
The Virtual World is Isolating
Sure, you can play a game against a friend or even someone far away, but most virtual experiences are extremely isolating. Don’t believe me? Try having a conversation with a child who has a Nintendo DS in his hands. Or, watch a child try to talk to a parent who is looking at a website on her iPhone. When we are immersed in the virtual world, we are not fully present in the real world that surrounds us.
Spend More Time on Real Experiences With Your Family
This year I am making a concerted effort to spending time with my children as we attempt to try a new experience each week of the year. It isn’t the experiences that matter to me as much as the time I spend with my family. We’ve done very simple activities, such as camping in a backyard and running a lemonade stand. My children have enjoyed just about everything we’ve tried and none of our experiences so far involved a computer screen. Real experiences are authentic and can create a bonding experience for your family.
Overcoming the Obstacles to Spending More Time in the Real World and Less Time in the Virtual World
Most parents will tell you that their children would practically die without their handheld video games or computers. But, just like eating vegetables and going to bed on time, limiting screen time is good for children’s health. I even set limits on my own screen time since I seem to get lost on Facebook and Pinterest. You don’t have to completely cut out the virtual world. Just carve out limits that are appropriate for your family.
Some people argue that taking children to museums and on day trips to nearby cities is expensive. That can be true, but DS games and Wii consoles are not free either. Besides, there are plenty of free options for real life experiences. Hiking on local trails and playing on local playgrounds is free. Many museums, zoos, and aquariums have free or donation-only days each month. You only need to do a little research to find these deals.
Finally, finding time is always an obstacle to real life experiences. We are busy with work, children’s activities, and volunteer commitments. We need to make time for what we value and what we want our children to value. A real life experience doesn’t have to be an all-day affair. Go bowling for an hour. Spend an afternoon volunteering as a family to clean up a local park. Watch your children run, skip, and climb on the playground for half an hour. Our children are young only once. You need to decide whether you want to spend your valuable time and their precious childhoods in front of a computer or in the real world.
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