If you visit most birthday party establishments these days, kids are inundated with video games, laser tag, escape rooms, and various other tech-dependent activities. Kids’ activities are becoming either more digital-based, or heavily scheduled minute by minute with less interaction. When birthday parties are consumed with technology, it seems counterintuitive: The whole goal is to interact with each other. My daughters (ages 13, 11, & 6 ) like other kids in America want to have access to technology in some capacity (such as YouTube, cell phones, iPads etc.). As parents, my husband and I are realistic about the benefits of technology, but also “try” hard to reduce however and whenever we can so that are kids aren’t dependent on technology to interact. So when my two older girls wanted to have slumber parties for their birthdays, I didn’t consider this a major deal. Until, that is, I realized just how much technology has changed the role of most kid interactions.
The Back Story
My 13-year-old was the first to have a slumber party this past year. We’d had slumber parties before, but I wasn’t prepared for the shift in how many teens had access to technology. Most of her friends already had cellphones. I wasn’t prepared for the lack of initial interaction, with kids texting other kids (who, while invited, weren’t in attendance) or posting on social media. My initial reaction was, “I don’t want my living room blasted on social media.” And I felt like the whole goal of a slumber party was to keep the bonding time of girls specific to those at the party.
The momma bear in me (no pun intended) kicked in and texted all the parents that I would respectfully collect all the cell phones so that the girls could just bond and have time to interact with each other. I told the girls they would get them back at the next morning, and if they need to call their parents they were most welcome to use my phone. While my 13-year-old thought I was the absolute worst mom and I felt like one in that moment, I also knew this was for the best, because it forced her friends to interact with each other. It also kept my living room from being blasted on social media, it removed outside teenage drama from kids who didn’t attend, and allowed conversations to take place so that the girls could actually interact with each other and enjoy each other’s company in the moment. The girls weren’t thrilled with the idea, but they complied. There were moments of boredom, but they soon found ways of occupying their time. When I gave back their phones the next morning, I noticed they looked like they had been deprived of their coffee habit for a week. They hardly talked to each other until their parents picked them up. I also realized I had set them up for dependency.
So when it came time for my 11-year-old’s birthday (remembering the experience of my 13 year’s party) I kindly informed the parents before the party to keep the media devices at home so the girls could interact and enjoy each other’s company. Needless to say some of the girls weren’t thrilled, but at least it was handled before the party and I had parental support in the home. We also planned activities that the kids weren’t used to doing because, well, frankly technology often took the place of them. We had a water balloon fight and multiple games in the backyard; we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores, and we watched an outdoor movie (so not completely technology-free but at least it wasn’t YouTube) and we had games that the girls played where they had to talk and interact with each other.
At the beginning of the night the girls said, I’m bored,” and at the end of the party the next morning the girls commented that it was one of the best parties they had ever attended. In between those boring moments where nothing was planned, the girls had to use their imagination and be creative — and they didn’t hate it. Yes, there were moments of boredom, but that allowed them to find new ways to explore and be creative, come up with games, and talk about things that they might not otherwise have talked about. They played a game called “warm fuzzies” where each girl had to write a positive message to someone else at the party. They had to put these messages in a cup, and by the end of the game each girl had a cup full of warm fuzzies or positive messages just for her. A simple game like that allowed them to think about each other and enjoy each other’s company.
What is the lesson behind technology-free birthdays?
I’m not against technology, but I think it has its place in our society, and if we use if for every facet of our lives it starts to replace some of our behaviors, interactions, and most importantly how our kids practice being kids. We have to let our kids be bored and use their imagination. We have to remind them to be in the moment and less in the future or the past.
Let this lesson also serve that we can show our kids how to not depend on technology for every means of entertainment or interaction.
In what ways can you support using less technology so your kids can still have fun without it?
Copyright 2019 Andrea Bear