Peter and the Trains

The master track builder

My Peter had a problem.  Whenever he would go into our basement, which is filled with endless toys, he kept turning on a movie.  Not bad movies mind you, a favorite was The Polar Express.  (Yes, even in May!)  We told him he was not allowed to turn the TV on without permission, but this was completely ignored.  After who knows how many offenses, I unplugged the television.  Then the most amazing thing happened.  Peter started building these elaborate railroad tracks for his train.  They would go all over the basement.  He would insist I go down to see what he created, and I was very impressed.  John, James, and Mary were soon pulling their little trains along the tracks.  The occasional dispute arose over specific trains, but overall, the Island of Sodor chugged along peacefully.  The television has remained unplugged, and will remain so indefinitely.  


It is amazing how quickly and easily our kids (and adults!) can get sucked into television and technology.   Little by little our contact with actual people is replaced with contact only through  our electronic devices.  This loss of personal interaction is wreaking havoc on our society and on our children.  They lose the ability to have meaningful conversations.  They stop knowing how to go outside and run around and just be a kid.  They cease to read the great classics in literature.  They don’t take the time to be with God in prayer.  The device in their hand becomes a ball and chain they cannot free themselves from.  A device that does not love them in the least.  


I was just reading this past week that the average child graduates high school with a seventh grade reading level.  Most kids have simply ceased to read good literature.  Books with vocabulary to expand their minds, with heroic characters to aspire to, and life lessons to ponder are ignored.  What a sadness.


Even more alarming is the effect that readily available pornography has on our children and society as a whole.  Just one of many issues is a growing problem of people no longer able to be aroused by the touch of another human.  Intimacy is no longer intimacy - it is watching something on the computer.   The beauty of the marital act as God intended is unitive, total, self giving, and open to life.  The devil has perverted this to something that is divisive, limited, selfish, and sterile.  


God made us to love and be loved.  We are meant for personal interactions.  A phone, computer, or TV show can never complete us.   The devil seeks above all to divide and isolate us.  He wants to divide us from God and neighbor.  There has been a recent spike in suicides in Cincinnati.  This is alarming to me.  Why is it that more and more of our children feel alone with no one to turn to?  When they become overwhelmed or struggle, technology is not going to be a listening ear.  It will not provide comfort - they need personal relationships with God first, their family, and good friends.  This is where we find our strength in the midst of struggle.  


After our little incident with Peter, I began to take stock at how to better encourage these interactions in my own home.   This summer we have decided to give up all television as a family.  (They already do not have phones.)   It often seems after swimming at the pool and getting worn out, the kids start angling for a movie to watch and just chill.  With this option off the table, I hope they ask one of their siblings to play a game, or decide to read a good book, or as my husband says “rest with the Lord in prayer.”  I want to foster their relationships with God, each other, and me.   


I must admit, at the end of the night, I too like to turn on a show and just veg.  However, I need to readjust my ways of relaxing and I know I will be better for it.  Just the other night I challenged Tate to a game of Yahtzee.  I got three Yahtzees and  scored over 500 points!  It was so much fun - although Tate may not have shared in my excitement.  The point being we were spending more time together, instead of just looking at a television.


I unplugged the television and freed my little Peter’s imagination to start building incredible tracks.  This naturally led to encouraging more play with his siblings.  He now knows the television is off, so he has been freed from the constant need to watch something.  What a blessing!  


We are only at the beginning of our summer, and I am not naive enough to think we are all going to be hugging each other and singing Kumbaya.  However, I am willing to challenge my family and trust that God will fill beautifully time previously spent watching television.  Does anyone care to join the Hilgeforts for the summer and unplug?  JMJ