By Vicki Little
If you didn’t know better, you might think that digital screens have become a commodity needed for daily survival. They invade our dinner tables, our car rides, even our play dates. Kids as young as age 5 spend time with other children watching one another play on a tablet instead of using their imaginations to play with toys or heading outside to explore. In any given situation, we see more children (and adults) staring at their screens instead of actually engaging in conversation with someone. At sibling athletic competitions — or even at church — you might find parents pulling out tablets and phones so that kids won’t get bored or cause a distraction.
I am hardly blameless in this particular situation. The other day, I allowed my son to bring his tablet over to his friend’s house so they could have Minecraft battles together. At dinner, my daughter was talking for a good 15 minutes about another gymnast before I realized the kid she was talking about was merely someone she watched on YouTube. Rather than living in the moment and paying attention to their own friends, our children are becoming increasingly engaged in their online lives and the “reality” shows of various families that live in front of the camera.
When we were young, we were expected to sit there quietly and to behave. We could think about whatever we wanted, though, and our imaginations were what kept us from getting bored. We also were expected to have a conversation with those around us. We had to learn to respond to other people’s questions and to grin while older adults pinched our cheeks and marveled over how big we had gotten. We were expected to learn how to act in social situations. Instead of being told to turn the volume down, we were told to wipe the grumpy look off our faces and to find someone to play with. We were expected to entertain ourselves.
It may seem harmless: I mean who doesn’t want their child to sit quietly during activities? And what is so bad about kids playing on electronics while hanging out, as long as they don’t fight? Heck, quite often, kids are actually learning something on a tablet since many parents only allow kids to use apps that are educational, right? But it is an issue. A recent State Of Education Report by The Key found that more than half of new students in one-third of elementary schools are not performing at the academic level educators expect them to be at when they start attending school.
Kids simply don’t know how to have a conversation with someone else. They don’t know how to keep calm and react to various situations. And they don’t know how to keep themselves entertained. They can learn to write programming through different websites, but they don’t know how to just sit quietly and think. They Google how to solve or to fix something before they try to work through the problem, and they are on social media griping about a friend before they sit down to talk it out.
Before my children were able to form their thoughts and needs into words, I used to love looking at them and wondering what was happening behind those eyes. Sometimes it was obvious that they were trying really hard to figure something out. Sometimes I knew they were simply thinking happy thoughts, and sometimes I didn’t know if they were in super deep thought or if they were pooping. But no matter what, I knew there was a world of discovery happening in their young minds. It is disturbing for me to see blank stares when young kids look at screens, or when they get frustrated because the WiFi is slow or they lose a video game. Worse yet, it’s hard when I see them bored, confused, or panicked when their screens are taken away. Without screens to hide behind, they have a harder time making conversation — especially with adults. (Am I the only one who is sick of hearing kids actually say the letters LOL instead of hearing their laugh?) Without their screens, they might get bored at siblings’ activities instead of cheering them on. Without their screens, they seem a bit lost.
There is no doubt that technology has brought great things — and higher learning potential — into our children’s lives. But many great things seem to be getting lost as well. Like the ability to just sit and think, to daydream, to just….BE. As we get older, we all search for ways to find peace. We try to find ways to quiet our busy minds. I long for the days when I had the freedom to lay in the grass, look up at the clouds or the stars, relax and let my imagination wander. Why aren’t we teaching our children these skills early, instead of handing them a tablet that will cloud their minds with more information and noise? What would be the worst thing that could happen if we asked them to please just sit quietly instead of allowing them to play on a screen to “occupy” them.
Obviously screens aren’t going away — they are just getting bigger (or smaller) and better. And, let’s face it, taking every little bit of screen time out of our lives is punishing ourselves more than it is teaching them a valuable lesson. What if we start the habit of allowing our kids to just think and imagine during certain activities, such as car rides, family dinners, and sibling activities? They won’t beg to occupy themselves on a tablet if they know it isn’t an option. They also won’t feel so over-scheduled if their minds and hands aren’t doing something every second of the day, if they get some time to just be still. Instead of distracting our children with noise, we should teach them how to think, how to imagine, and how to sit quietly and just be.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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