Many companies are choosing to use advertising dollars to get across an uplifting message in addition to promoting their products. Viewers find a break from the onslaught of advertisements with a chance to think about an important social issue. In the ad we feature below Nature Valley asks three generations the same question: What did you do for fun as a kid?

How would you answer? Take a moment to think about all the things you enjoyed as a child.

Bike rides down the steepest hill in town, Star Wars family movie nights, backyard time with my dog and big brother, sewing with mom, building things with Dad… I remember these pastimes so fondly and I pray that my future children have a similar childhood full of adventure and freedom.

Well, times have changed. Kids now have access to tablets, phones, televisions, and almost anything via the internet. They live vicariously through a screen instead of embarking on their own adventures.

In the ad the first generation recalls picking berries, growing watermelons, using an old sign as a toboggan, and comical bear encounters when fishing. The second generation relates, laughing about playing with their friends in forts or playing ball with kids from the neighborhood. Both generations express adventurous, hands-on interaction with both friends and nature.

When the third generation answers the question, the tone drastically shifts. The young children unhesitatingly answer that “video games, definitely,” going on the phone, videos online, texting, and sending emails are what they do for fun. Something is amiss.

When did watching videos become someone’s favorite thing to do? What happened to playdough and snow forts and lemonade stands? Spending hours on an adventure outside is far more appealing than hours and hours on a cellphone – or is that just me?

Listening to their children’s and grandchildren’s responses, the older generations notices the stark transformation of childhood. One parent even admits that future generations might never leave the comfort of their couch and another says she feels as if her child is missing out.

 “It’s odd, in many families, the fathers and mothers tell me: We’re at the table with the children, and they are with their mobile phones in another world.” – Pope Francis

Technology in itself is not objectively evil. God gifted man with the ability to invent, but man was never intended to become engrossed in his own artifacts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2293, emphasizes, “Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress.” Our challenge is to keep technology where it belongs, as a tool for us and not a lifestyle.

I agree with Nature Valley.  Let’s not let the importance of a childhood spent playing in nature become a forgotten priority.  No matter the novelty and excitement of technology, it can never match the wonder of creation God has given us to explore. Technology can never come close to the beauty and goodness of fresh air.  Computer games, tablets, smartphones… these inventions don’t teach us virtue unless we demonstrate prudence in actually applying them in real life.

Praise the Lord, and thank Him for his majestic creation: How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. (Psalm 104: 24-25; NIV)
Though tablets, television, phones, and computers all have seemingly endless possibilities, these should only enhance our interaction and understanding with the real world; they can never replace reality. God’s creation – the real world – is far more awe-inspiring, but we must help children to see and to desire what is real, as opposed to being absorbed in their screened devices.

Even the best of what man creates – in this case, technology – can only ever be a reflection of God’s design, of His pure goodness, truth, and beauty.  We can never outdo or “out-create” Our Lord. Therefore, we must not (especially as Christians) become so immersed in man-made screens that we neglect to give God’s creation it’s due admiration.

Three Steps to Keep Kids Off the Couch:

1.) Balance

If your child can name the members of the Kardashian family and not the Twelve Apostles, they are spending far too much time in front of a screen.  Reevalute the technology in your life: Does your child really need that smartphone, or can they handle a “dumbphone” for emergencies? How many televisions and computers and tablets are in your house compared to musical instruments, craft supplies, or other toys, especially those for the outdoors? When is your child turning to the internet when she could instead be on a playdate, or helping you cook, or reading a book from the library?

Set a limit on screen time.  Guide your child to use time and technology wisely through rules and discussions about what is an appropriate amount of time to spend in front of screen.  All technology should be used fruitfully to enrich childhood, so instead of watching videos for the sake of videos themselves, watch a video about a new recipe to try or a cool activity to learn or one about how to care for your new pet.  Use technology to aid them on their way to learning something new

2.) Socialize

Whether I was learning to ride my bike or sitting around the piano, my favorite companions were always my family members. From my family I learned that I was loved and important. These positive relationships in my life fostered a desire in me to spend quality time with people I love without needing a movie or computer to keep me occupied.

Rainy day? Instead of just playing a video game, invite a friend over to play, incorporate some baking or build a fort.  There’s also nothing wrong with puddle-jumping for a little bit either. Rain doesn’t stop the fun.

Have you ever been to a waterpark? A forest preserve? Kayaking? Canoeing? A fair? A museum? Apple orchard? Sledding hill? Lake? Fishing pond? Pumpkin patch? Circus? Musical? Ballet? A festival? A picnic? A road trip? Where do your children want to go? There is always something new to explore and invite friends along

3.) Put God First

An old Victorian rule stated that it was essential for a child (even a baby) to be left alone for an hour or two everyday, just to have time with God. In a world of overstimulation, let your children at every age have peace from distraction. Of course doesn’t mean you completely abandon your child somewhere, but rather to teach them to be comfortable being in a different room in the home and allowing him to learn to explore, imagine, play without constant external stimulation. Placing children in front of a screen when you are occupied with dinner or bills or other projects is not the only option.

It’s great to play with your children, but they are capable of time with God, alone. Incorporate rosaries, blessings before/after meals, daily Mass, holy hours, scriptural readings, and other spiritual activities for your family, too. Put on the Christian radio station to surround yourself with praise of God.

God also granted your child unique gifts and talents. You never know where your child’s talents may be if they never get off the couch!

Remember Nature Valley’s message: “Rediscover the joy of nature.” God reaches out to us Himself through the beauty of nature. Seek it out and bring your children to the Lord through nature’s beauty.