Thursday, January 08, 2015

"Growing up Social" or How To Deal With This Media-Driven World

The last days have been gorgeous, cold and clear.  We have been all trying to get over what appears to be the flu and we were stuck inside for over a week while the  weather was dreary and rainy.  So even though we were all coughing, sniffing, and sneezing we decided to spend a few hours at the park these last couple of days.  

We dressed warmly and made sure to spend our time in the sun and it was glorious.

While I was sick I had a chance to read some new library books like Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World.   I had been excited to read this book and it seemed to take forever to come in.  Apparently it is in high demand at my library.

I am still debating the pros and cons of screen-time on my children as I think all parents do in this media-addicted world we live in these days.  On one hand you read that media is not only safe but beneficial for children.  There are bloggers who feel unlimited screen-time is not only healthy but necessary for kids.  Then you read books like Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men and start to question that theory.  This author is pretty much against video games and media for boys and has a very convincing argument.  As does the author of Growing Up Social with screen-time for boys and girls.

We have all seen it, the family eating dinner out and all eyes glued on their little smartphones  (like seen in the photo in this post ).  The baby in the grocery cart with an iPad supported in front of him.  The children in the back seat of the car watching cartoons while life rolls past them outside.  The boys spending hours inside on video games while their beautiful yard fully decked-out with trampoline, treehouse, toys, and pool is empty under the sun.  The father and mother checking their email at the breakfast table while the kids are telling them jokes.  Oops, that was our family this morning…  :-O I am not lecturing you, I am part of the problem.

Just a few days ago while we were at the park I saw a father and daughter "enjoying" the beautiful day together.  They were sitting under a beautiful oak, he on his smart phone the entire time (over an hour) while his little girl (around 8?) sat and quietly watched my boys playing in the creek.

Then I started thinking about myself.  I am guilty of checking my phone when I should be present with my boys (like during family breakfast).  And it is just an electronic media problem?  Just a few days ago I was reading the newest Stephen King novel (I accidently requested the Large Print edition from the library and it didn't really bother me, I am getting old!) while the boys were playing on the playground equipment.  They would ask me to look at them and I would glance up and say "Wow" and go back to reading.  Is this any different than being on a smart phone?  Just a thought.  ;-)

My boys recently started playing Minecraft and I 100% believe they are addicted to it.  They play it for an hour or two and for the next week or two they don't stop talking about it.  It is like crack cocaine to my boys.  From what I have read these types of video games affect the pleasure centers of our brains as much as drugs and sugar.  I believe this to be true.

The problem with video games and the internet is that kids never really get bored.  You can lose a game and restart it.  The game gets old, change to a new game.  You start reading something boring on the web and you can click on a link and find something interesting.

Screen-time is nothing like real life.  Play Minecraft creative mode and you have unlimited blocks, play LEGOs and you have to dig under the bed to find the block you need and then realize that your brother vacuumed it up last week…  Kids are not like most adults, they can't self-moderate screen-time.  Heck, I have trouble self-regulating...

So what to do as a parent in these times?  I have friends who believe that media-time is essential for our children as it is the future.  Then I read studies that people that have never used media can be brought up to speed with just a few hours of being exposed to it.  So is it really necessary for our children to spend much of their free time staring at screens?

Not according to books like Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. This author says our kids (and their parents) need to get off the screens and get outside more.  And from all of my reading and studying my own boys I have a tendency to agree with him.

Do you have these struggles with parent-guilt too?  Like me, do you second guess every time you let your kids spend a few hours playing video games or watching Amazon Prime when it is a beautiful day outside?  Do your kids get grouchy and annoying after a few hours of screen time like my kids do? Believe me, I myself am guilty of using screen-time to entertain my often rambunctious boys as any other parent out there trying to get some things done around the house.

I guess the long-term influence of screen-time on our kids won't be known until this new crop of media-savy kids grows up.  But doesn't it seem like our children are part of a grand experiment?  Does that scare you like it scares me?  What would our world be like if the past famous achievers (Lincoln, G Washington, ML King, Jr., etc.) spent their childhood playing Minecraft and watching Netflix?  Would they have grown up to change our world for the better?  Or at 28 would they have been living at home, working part-time at Starbucks, hooking up with random people, and sucking dry Mom and Dad's retirement account?

And what is wrong with getting bored sometimes? Doesn't that lead to creatively?

Sure, running away from your brother who is trying to hit you with a stick might not be as exciting as a video game, but you do get some sun and exercise.

Unlike Minecraft, when you fall into a creek in winter you freeze your rear off and have to go home muddy and wet.  Natural consequences are a valuable thing to teach our children.

If you can peel your eyes away from your screen and look up you might see unexpected and beautiful things all around you.  Duke spotted these mushrooms growing high up in a tree.

Maybe we should question what media is really doing to our kids.  Maybe we shouldn't just give in and do as the masses do. Maybe we should try our own grand experiment on our own children and see if limiting screen-time actually makes them  grow into more productive, creative, empathic, and compassionate adults?

I think that media can be one of the most amazing advances of our time (it allows me to stay at home and do what I love and write these posts!), but also potentially one of the worst things for our kids. Only time will tell, but for now I will question the value of screen-time and try to do what seems best for my boys. And I think more outdoor and "boredom" time might be the ticket for them right now.

What do you think about screen-time and your children?  Does it scare you or have you accepted it just as a sign of present times?

As I write this post my boys have been playing with their pet rats and LEGOs and I haven't heard a peep from them.  I think they hope that I will forget to do school with them today, but they are in for a surprise.  ;-)  And tomorrow I will be posting a new freebie here!!!

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  1. Times sure have changed since I grew up and since I raised my own kids. Very interesting, Rita...and definitely should be on the minds of all parents. I think it will get even harder as the world gets more gadgets and gizmos. I hope parents will pull away long enough to engage with their kids! (I know it's SO HARD!)

  2. I really enjoyed your post today, Rita, and it's something I've thought about a lot with my own kids. What it comes down to for me, is balance. I think that, like everything in life, if there is a nice balance between media time and "other" time then it should be ok. I'm up in the Pacific Northwest where we have a lot of rainy days, so sometimes there's more TV/computer time on those days. But you can bet that those kids are outside on the nice ones! (And I don't have to force them either!) As for the debate over video games vs TV... well I've always thought that at least they are using their brains a little bit playing games, rather than just staring dumbly at a screen.


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