With all three of my children born after cellphones, text messages, email, and the internet became the norm, they will never know the world I grew up in — from the exciting anticipation of letters in the mail to the time and planning involved in avoiding the expense of long-distance calls. These gave context to the preciousness of communicating with people we love.
I knew I would be raising them in a world in which technology advances would take much out of my control, but the ways technology “changes us” is something I could attempt to circumvent. It isn’t surprising that today’s kids are running a deficit when it comes to empathy, sympathy, compassion, and overall caring about others. The sheer speed of everything takes away their ability to digest events and consider consequences — let alone feel the impact of them.
Our sons have used the beauty of the skies, the stars, and the planets as the basis for video messages set to music and as metaphors for daily struggles they encounter.
My only hope would be in the promise I made to myself (and my husband embraced) to raise our children with one simple parenting mantra, “Experiences over things.” My mother and father encouraged me to learn and love Mother Nature and I was determined to do the same.
Sixteen years and three children later, this mantra continues to be our guide. We take our children to concerts in the park rather than an afternoon movie, or budget for hiking boots and accessories rather than video games and tech gadgets. We schedule our “free” time as a family watching the sunset, which has more appeal than hibernating in separate rooms hovering over our phones. That is why we bought a telescope for our children — and it has had a powerful impact on them and us as a family transporting us into the sky.
Many parents fear a telescope under the tree will create gasps and cries of “boring,” “stupid,” and “old-fashioned,” and many will be concerned that it will become the force that pushes children (especially teens) even further into their game levels — but it won’t, and here’s why. As fascinated as children and teens have become with tablets, apps, texts, and podcasts — they are hungry for adventure, discovery, and meaningful contact beyond their handhelds and earphones.
We bought a simple yet powerful telescope that could be used by each of our children independently and as a way to bring the family together. It worked. For just over $200, it holds magic for each of us. We are all enthralled with the star-speckled world above us, Mars and Jupiter and the bluish hue they portrayed, and the craters of the moon — which became real. It is one thing to see a photo of Saturn’s moons in a book; it is a whole other experience to see them in real life, and in real time.
Our sons have used the beauty of the skies, the stars, and the circling planets as the basis for video messages set to music and as metaphors for daily struggles they encounter or appreciating and offering empathy to others. After so many hours of “looking down” at their technology, they are grateful for the chance to “look up” and travel into space — and escape the superficiality that has engulfed so much of our lives. Our telescope is portable and easy to carry — so as they have grown, no matter what age, weight, or height, they can easily use it on a table, tripod, even a wide windowsill.
The upcoming winter holidays are a wonderful time to remind our children that the beauty of earth and space is free to every human being, and those teachings will fill our hearts and minds if we are willing to listen to all they have to say. Not only has “telescope time” given my children an openness to people and places, but in the case of one of my sons, a purpose, too. The power of the night sky, a science book, and a simple telescope was all it took to convince him that astrophysics is a career path he wants to explore — and that a dream job at NASA may become a reality, not just a pipe dream.
Think about moving beyond the latest video game and prepaid music card. While they may be the right fit to fill the stocking — they won’t be enough to fill your kids’ souls.
Valerie King is a Dallas-based mother of 16-year-old twins and a 12-year-old. She has written three books. The telescope she refers to is the Astroscan Millenium Telescope.