Bound to clutter and time

A recent study from UCLA-affiliated social scientists paints a bleak picture of modern parents: beholden to clutter, technology, and stuff. Likewise, they found, many (if not most) rarely step foot outdoors and claim that a perceived lack of time drives a lot of daily decisions. It’s a study I can relate to, and that’s really depressing.

The study

The longitudinal study entitled, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors,” (currently available at Amazon as a book) observed middle-class families in Los Angeles over four years. The results, according to the authors, are “disheartening,” and include:

  1. Many families rely heavily on prepared and frozen foods even though they only save an average of 11 minutes per meal. “They give me the illusion of saving time and energy,” said one participant, “and that’s almost as important.”
  2. Most families in the study rarely go outdoors, even those who recently spent money on outdoor improvements like a new deck. “That’s the backyard,” one mom said. “I never go out there.”
  3. Leisure time is spent in front of the TV or the computer.

One interesting revelation I found has to do with a family’s refrigerator door. Those that are cluttered with notices, magnets, papers and the like, often indicate a home that is in a similar state. (Read our article on dealing with refrigerator door clutter here).

That’s rough, but the most depressing and relatable bit for me was about 2-year-old Anjellisa Redfern. According to researchers, she has a great many toys. However, “…she doesn’t want to play with them,” said her mother. “She wants to be on the couch watching TV.”

Second screen? Try first.

In 2014, Jeff Bercovici wrote an article for Forbes entitled, “Using A Second Screen While Watching TV Is The New Normal.” He went on to describe the growing habit of glancing at a smartphone or tablet while watching television:

Watching TV while simultaneously using a smartphone, laptop, or tablet is on the verge of becoming a majority behavior worldwide.

Later that year, the New York Times noted the emerging “second screen marketing” efforts that were just beginning to happen, targeted at those who use a smartphone or tablet as the titular “second screen” while watching TV. It is interesting, but that’s not the behavior in 2017. The TV is the second screen, the smartphone is the first.

Every night in my home, a depressing scene plays out. We have dinner, almost never together, almost always within 15 minutes, almost always silently and almost certainly with each in his or her own chair, doing his or her own thing. When this non-family time is complete, everyone retreats to his or her room of choice with his or her preferred screen, not to be seen again until morning.

It’s killing me and I hate it.

I’m partly to blame as I’ve let it go on this long. Extinguishing this pattern will not be easy. There will be loud complaining. There will be rolling of eyes and harsh words. But it must be done.

Childhood is a window that closes at 18 years of age. That’s all you get, those 18 precious years. Then they’re off to work, off to school, off to adulthood, and whatever comes next. There is no time machine. You can’t go back. My kids are 12 and 14 years old. The window is almost closed. I absolutely will not sit with regret years from now because I did not make the most of being their dad. Because I lost out to apps and YouTube stars. Because Snapchat was more appealing.

If the modern American family is succumbing to clutter and technology, it’s time to revisit our priorities. The window on childhood is closing. Be there – really be there – before it does.

8 Comments for “Bound to clutter and time”

  1. posted by bev on

    I see this in my grandkids. The parents have chosen not to have cable thinking that will limit TV time. Instead they watch Netflix. Now they can sit and binge watch their choice instead of looking forward to that one night a week that their favorite show comes on. And since the choices seem endless, there is the perennial fight about what to watch. There is a yard to play in but it’s not *beautiful* and it doesn’t have any play equipment so the kids are not encouraged to go out there. I see this almost acre of yard that is half covered with weeds tall enough for the kids to hide in with bunnies and garden snakes and all sorts of adventures. I think they are missing out.

  2. posted by Anne-Margaret on

    Thank you for sharing this book. This is a very real problem in our society today and I think so many families are just letting the technology take-over. I work hard to keep family time a focus in our family, but I must fight to get everyone’s attention away from the screens. They complain and have their fits, but then they always enjoy our family time together. It is worth the fight!

  3. posted by Sue on

    As I sit here with the TV on and both my DD and I on our computers, I can relate. My refrigerator door is a disaster. And I must admit that although we spent much of the day today out and about and I am requiring my daughter did not get on an electronic until 5 p.m. tonight despite it being the second day of summer vacation, I still feel the pain of this article.

  4. posted by Alyssa Day on

    You’re right that the depressing dinner is the parents’ fault and can be changed. We made a rule early on “no boxes at dinner” (boxes includes phones/game devices/any type of electronic and even books) and – most important – it applies to mom and dad, too. As a result we’ve had some amazing conversations at the dinner table and on separate occasions our kid have each told us they appreciated it. When they have friends over, the rule applies to them, too. It’s honestly one of the best parenting decisions I’ve ever made and I highly recommend it–our kids actually tell us about their lives.

  5. posted by Marion on

    Like the above reader, our family eats dinner together, every school night at least (out son is 16), and we have always have eaten dinner together. Our son will sometimes want to stay in his room on his computer, using the excuse of not being hungry, but I reply that he knows The Rule. Dinner is eaten together with no screens at the table. Also, if you can get your kids interested in either sports or band or orchestra, or something non-curricular, that will get them away from the screens a large part of the day.

  6. posted by Laura on

    Why are you guys rerunning those posts of 2007? You cannot comment to them (hence my commenti ng over here) and they don’t off all that much. The medicine one might be the most useful one, but why rerun a post on collapsible colanders or patio furniture?
    I’d rather see fewer posts with new content than rereun posts just to have something to post about.

  7. posted by kathc on

    Times have changed, and not everything is for the better. Dinnertime used to be a family time for my family, but once all of the kids were in school, dinner hour became time to pick kids up from sports or scouts, as they got older it was time to drop the non-drivers off at their part-time jobs and dinner was often what was grabbed from a fast food restaurant while traveling from one child’s meeting/sports event/practice to the next kid’s event. By the time everyone was together again it was almost bedtime and too late to eat a meal together. It made me so sad, and pretty much everyone we knew was in the same boat. So we started making breakfast our family meal. I woke up before everyone else and prepared a hot breakfast – nothing fussy, maybe eggs one day, frozen waffles another day, etc. and the whole family ate together. It was a great way to stay connected, the kids got a good breakfast to start the day and it was too early for the texts and other distractions to start coming in. Figure out what works for your family. As for the phones, TV & computer, remember, you are the parent. You are most likely paying for these things. You have the control. Stop being afraid that your kids won’t like you. They have friends for that. You’re their parent, not their friend. They may hate you today, but later on, they’ll thank you.

  8. posted by Pat on

    My sons are 29 to 39 and know times were different way back when – but not that different! Three things that we did that made for a happier family:
    – The boys could go out and play (or hang around the house) until 5:30. 5:30 to 6:30 was homework time. No music, no television (other screens were not an issue then), even if you did not have homework. Your brothers have homework, you can read a book.
    – By 7:30 Dad was home and we ate as a family. It wasn’t necessarily a leisurely meal, but we all ate together.
    – Sunday dinner was in the dining room. Wedgwood china, Waterford crystal, and sterling silver. There was some kind of rolls or bread (which we didn’t have on a week night) and Mom and Dad had wine. There was also a pretty good dessert. And – miracle of miracles – the boys hung around, shared things that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise, laughed and had a great time together. And you know what? They still enjoy each other’s company.

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