Hello everyone! As Worldtowners we are often asked how much technology our kids use for school and entertainment. Among the circles we travel in, we see families who use every device and online resource they can get their hands on and others who completely shun it. We definitely fall towards the later, but are not absolute at this point in time. For the first decade of their life our kids barely touched technology, but as they grow in age and are becoming more dependent on technology to access their educational curriculum we are slowly bringing it into their life on an as needed basis. If you are a traveling family you know this can be a very controversial topic in online groups. Each family is different, they have varying goals and at the end of the day we are all just trying to do our best. Today I will share our “why” for keeping the tech on the down low with our kids.
Technology and Kids
We used no technology (computers, TVs, apps, smartphones) with the kids in the first two years of their life. Frankly, Will and I had no opinion about kids and technology before we had kids, we never even had one conversation about whether or not it would be part of our children’s lives. Then one day, when Avalon was about six months old we put in one of those Baby Einstein videos and she went from cooing and rolling around with her toys to staring aimlessly at the TV screen. It was like crack for her. Her mouth dropped open, she sat still and she did not move. Will and I looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “ah, no” and that was it for Baby Einstein. We sold the DVD’s on craigslist the following week and we never looked back. We decided to embrace her natural desires to roll, play and create rather than screen time.
We did the same with Largo.
Many people asked how we did it with both of us working full-time. It was all we knew and all the kids knew. They were great at entertaining themselves while I worked from home. We made sure they had books, bounce swings, crafts, blocks and all kinds of fun stuff at their finger tips to figure out, but we also trusted that sitting idle was not a bad thing at all. There were many conference calls taken from my home office with a child on a breast or me continually tossing a new toy up on a high chair table to keep the smiles coming. I often had to partner these less traditional methods with a part-time nanny, but there were years when that was not an option so I did my best to hold meetings during nap time.
When we dined out, traveled on airplanes, went to holiday functions, made dinner, ran errands, etc. we had a bag of goodies that traveled with us for entertainment. I filled it with a mini-paint set, blocks, books, clay, crayons, paper, you name it and I had it.
Did we get criticized? Unfortunately, yes. Did we care? Not at all. We never judged others choices to use technology, but we were often put on the defensive and outed. Thankfully, most of our friends at the time were big readers, did not have TVs themselves, had a love of the outdoors and enjoyed the arts, so they got it. But there was that other handful of people who would insistently say that the kids would be at a disadvantage socially because they would not know pop culture, that they would fall behind academically, that it would affect their creativity and make them unlikable. We were even told (this one is my favorite) that the only way to learn a second language was to become immersed in foreign language television and that if they didn’t they would never be fluent in another language. They are currently fluent in three languages despite not using television. Our main concern then and to this day was to raise happy, healthy and curious kids and for us the use of excessive amounts of technology did not contribute to us accomplishing those goals.
Around age two and a half we decided to introduce our weekly “movie night” to each child. And to this day they still have a weekly movie night. Some weeks we join them and others we use the time to finish up work. Like an “In case of emergency, break glass” fire extinguisher, we made exceptions when they were sick and allowed unlimited movies, but we also did a lot of snuggling and reading to them. In terms of using other technology we still used nothing, no gaming, no smartphone, no TV, no MindCraft, etc.
At age 9-10 we started integrating a bit of technology into their life.
- Both kids are big readers so age nine became the magic age they could get their own Kindle to read on. It was also when we began traveling so it made it easier to feed the book habit.
- At age ten we started homeschooling Avalon. As a result, she immediately got more screen time because of her online classes.
- At age ten we moved away from our Boston friends. Avalon wanted to be able to keep in touch with them so we got her messaging on her computer and an email account.
- Neither one of them watched regular TV, sitcoms or reality shows (our life is the only reality show we need).
- Largo was nine at the time so he only had once a week movie night and occasionally he would look over his sisters shoulders when she was doing something on the computer.
- Occasionally Avalon was permitted to use an App that taught her about the countries in the world or helped her with Math.
- Neither one of them had/have their own phones.
- At age 12 Avalon decided to attend public school in France. Although all of her friends had phones we stuck to our guns and abstained from succumbing, however we did let her use Snapchat and Musically on my phone when she was at home. Frankly, we would not have done this yet if we lived a stationary life, but she wanted to keep in touch with other traveling friends across the globe and this was the best way to do it.
- Avalon also had 20 minutes of computer time a day to check her email, watch some videos she liked on youtube, message friends and do research.
- Avalon has since taken a break from Snapchat and Musically because she found she was comparing herself to others and it was making her feel bad about herself. She may go back at some point, but right now she says she is quite happy like this.
Age 13 and the future
- Our plan as the years pass on is to allow technology on an “as needed” basis until around the age of 15. We want to get to a point where we leave the decision completely up to them and for us, 15 just feels right. We cannot deny the fact that technology is a big part of all of our lives, but we want to nurture other parts of them first, there will always be time for technology.
- Neither child has a phone. We will allow phones once they are older with the stipulation that they need to be able to pay for them on their own, this includes the purchase of the phone and the monthly plan.
- Neither child has a handheld gaming device.
We have read a lot about the impact long-term and early age exposure to technology has on children and frankly it scares us. Technology is part of life today, but we are not convinced that it is necessary for children who are developing their sense of self and trying to find space in this busy world. If you are using a lot of tech or thinking about it please do your research and don’t give into the pressure that everyone else is doing it, if it does not feel right for your family goals then don’t do it.
Do we make exceptions? Absolutely. Most of our friends in this travel life are eager to get outside and adventure. A bunch of kids sitting around on technology is the furthest from their mind, but a few of our friends from our other life use it consistently. When we are with these friends and in their homes we allow our kids to live how they do, it is not our place to judge. We never want to restrict them from seeing how others live and we want to respect our friends homes. However, in our own home we expect guests to accommodate to our lifestyle choices in return.
For us, the skipping of technology was very easy as we have made it a point to live life on our terms. But nevertheless, nobody likes to be criticized. A very wise friend of mine once told me on a morning walk on the beach in the South of France that it’s never easy being different (and no, she was not a green frog named Kermit). You will be criticized anytime you challenge a system that is so engraved in society that to be without it would seem ridiculous. The crazy part is this idea of limiting technology is only suggesting that we allow creativity to grow in children naturally and with some time to reflect (or even be bored).