This is a part of a series of thoughts for my next book, Slow Schooling…And Other Thoughts on Rescuing Childhood
One recurring theme I hear is that adults need to text or Facebook the children in their lives or they’ll never hear from them. This may be true, but peeking into a child’s public Facebook page to discover they’ve either been to the doctor or Tahiti isn’t the same as hearing about it one on one through private messaging, even via Skype or email. In this (private) case, the technology may be useful, especially if there is long distance involved. But the truth is: tone of voice, body language, and the meeting of the eyes are definitely missing. We can’t change our nomadic relationships, however, so the question of how to keep in touch over distances is going to be one needing answers on an individual basis. But far too often, we default to “just texting” or putting up a status update instead of getting messy with actual conversation. why not call up Grandma on the telephone instead of assuming she’s just keeping up with your blog? Why not make time to drive 15 minutes and have lunch with your Dad?
So, what’s the balance? As a parent, we don’t want to nurture harmful habits or appetites. After all, the average age of a gamer is now 35 years old! But is anyone seriously promoting this as a good and honorable thing, or that participating in video gaming is a rite of childhood? An addictive attachment to any electronic device is not promoting the mature and godly character of an adult to say the least. Furthermore, it continues to degrade the lack of social skills and even an inkling of concern for observational attention to what–and who–is nearby.
Considering the potential (and probable) short and long-term effects of electronic devices on memory, attention spans, and focus, it might be useful to think of screen time as candy and dole it out responsibly. For example, don’t put your baby to bed to be drugged into slumberland via a video, “Einstein” or not, any more than you would desire to overdose them into a coma of sugar to get them to sleep. And adults don’t have to model and thereby foster the habitual screen dependency by engaging in it at every turn. Better to spend time, and be present, wholly engaged. Better to foster the habit of face-to-face conversation (that takes time and companionship) now than to lament the lack thereof when the child is grown and gone and perfectly satisfied disengaged with an elderly parent (that would be, you!).
Other than encouraging lackluster relationships, what does too much screen time have to do with childhood?
* It celebrates a narcissistic worldview, encouraging children to remain immature.
* It encourages escapism.
* It shortens attention spans and weakens observational skills.
* It kills imagination, boredom, and time to think.
* It hinders exercise and gross motor play.
* It exposes them to content–violence, sex–that even adults ought to find unworthy of their eyes and time.
* It steals from time that could be better spent honing skills, trying out new hobbies, and practicing hospitality or ministry.
* It gives a sense of accomplishment where in reality none exists. Nothing is “achieved” just by making the high score.
* It deadens empathy and compassion for other people, and hardens their hearts.
We are seeing a mass dying of conscience and human potential, beginning in childhood. These are people who are uniquely equipped to bring forth their God-given talents and innate curiosities and giftings, in order to bless others and live a life rich with purpose and meaning. Sending thousands of texts per month or hours upon hours on screens does not encourage those sorts of endeavors!
Like a caustic herbicide, the fruit of personal screen time looks promising (connection! educational! fun!), but in the end, even the raindrops end up carrying its poison and affecting our families, yes, even humanity, as a whole. Maybe you think this can’t be true, that what one does with his or her own private time with screens doesn’t make a difference in the life of another. That it really doesn’t matter, it doesn’t hurt anyone else. As we shall see, this too is a falsehood…