Local family unplugs electronics to boost family connection

As winter draws to an ever-snowy close, kids are bound to be getting a touch of cabin fever and ready for the countless outdoor adventures that spring promises.

In the meantime, allowing your offspring to spend several hours battling in game land on the computer or watching their favorite TV series all afternoon might be easy. But could too much technological dependency create an imbalance in family life, affecting personality and behavior?

A local mother says unplugging electronics daily supports happier children and healthier family relationships.

Amish Hour

The Pastoris—a local family of six with four children between the ages of seven and 13—model an Amish modality of limited electricity each week. Well, in this case, limited Internet access and time spent on iPods, iPads, and any “iThings,” as mother Heather Pastori explains it. And they have dubbed it Amish Hour.

For an hour each night, all electronics are shut off and the Pastori clan must focus on different forms of entertainment whether it is reading, playing board games together or heading outside.

“Amish Hour came into existence because we noticed that the kids kind of get addicted to their electronics,” Heather said. “And the more they’re on it, the more grumpy they get.”

After hearing the idea from friends, the cutback endeavor was initially a way to incorporate more reading time into the day, Heather said but it quickly became much more.

By balancing time spent on electronics with time spent elsewhere, Amish Hour has several objectives that include better sibling relationships—less fighting—as well as a way to “awaken their imagination” and encourage their curiosity in the world around them.

“There’s more than one trick in the bag (of parenting) and (Amish Hour)’s one of them,” she said.

Benefiting from less

Limiting daily technology exposure encourages creative stimulation that helps to develop personality, Heather said.

“The goal is to try and add different layers of experience,” Heather said. “They don’t have the wisdom to know that by investing all of (their) time in this, other parts of (them) are not being developed.”

Whether it’s the kids’ love of being in the water, their adoration for turtles or even playing with BB guns outside, “I want them to open their eyes, enjoy everything here, and question and be curious,” she said. “I think it gives them a different paradigm through which to see their experiences.”

Heather admits that it’s difficult for her and her husband, Jim to abide by the rules at times and says the biggest challenge facing parents might be the discipline of Amish Hour.

“It’s easier to let them have (time with their electronics) because ‘I have to pay bills,’ or ‘I have to make a phone call’ or ‘I’m trying to make dinner.’”

So if parents can avoid the quick fix of ‘listen to your music’ or ‘play a game’, the benefits pay off.

“If I can let them be bored long enough to engage, then they really do. And they’re great at it,” Heather said.

While the experimental parenting trick is not based on research or a current study, Amish Hour has already shown positive results for the Pastori family.

“It’s the transition, the taking away of the electronics that creates a big deal,” Heather said. “If they already know they’re not getting it, it doesn’t become an issue.”

An in turn, her children are more patient with each other, they fight less and the bedtime routine is a much smoother one.

Regimenting Amish Hour into your family life can be physically and financially exhausting tying to entertain four children with different interests.

But even in the winter, there are fun—and free—ways to incorporate natural exploration into your child’s learning life, Heather said. Nature walks, doing crafts together, weekend trips and one of her favorites—food coloring to paint the snow are just some ideas.

“It’s very easy to blame kids these days,” Heather said, “But I think before we blame anybody else, we have to look in the mirror and say, ‘Well, what are we doing to not take the easy way?”

Technology has its perks

While the Pastori clan aims to limit time spent on electronics, they still enjoy and support the use of technology.

There are several math and reading games on the computer and iPad that they are fond of and some television shows are springboards for good conversation, Heather said,

“Anything that you can have in common with them—that you can laugh about really—as long as it’s not the only thing you’re doing as a family—is important,” she said. “And sometimes you just want to laugh with your kids.”

Learning to love being disconnected

While the Pastori kids aren’t truly in love with the latest Amish Hour rule—calling it annoying and even hating it—they are learning to embrace it.

“We try to explain to (our kids) that you take this for granted that everyone has (electronics),” Heather said, “And some people live without it.

(The Amish) have a lifestyle that is very different from ours and they are just fine. So you won’t die if you don’t have your iPod for a couple hours, I guarantee it,” she joked.

When being on their iPod or the computer is juxtaposed to a favorite outdoor activity such as climbing trees, turtle hunting, building fairy houses or playing with their BB guns, the kids collectively and matter-of-factly drop the aforementioned notion.

“You never know if you’re doing it right or wrong until it’s too late and they’re grown,” Heather said. “But you see what works for them—When they’re happy and when they’re not happy.”

“Sometimes making them happy is not giving them what they want.”

Let us know what you think about this parenting tip!

Have you heard of this tactic before? Tried it? Loved it? Modified it? Let us know at editor@rochestermedia.com.

About Jen Bucciarelli

Veggie lover and aspiring word chef, reporter Jen Bucciarelli covers all things health and medicine for Rochester Media and The Community Edge. She is always on the hunt for local experts who can help improve the lives of our readers. Send her a note at JenBucciarelli@gmail.com.

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