The computer age revolutionized the ways children learn and communicate but commentator Rawlins Gilliland questions too much of a good thing.
I’m crazy about smart kids. Rest assured, there are brilliant ones being produced in this century’s online informational wake. I, however, marvel at how challenging it must be as a parent to find child-rearing balance while grappling with the electronic device onslaught. The impossible issue being how one validates the educational or even the entertainment aspects within a computerized world while rejecting the obsessive compulsion these instruments inevitably engender. Seeing our young people spend countless hours staring into pixelated glass in an immobilized mute trance, the question becomes: At what point does advancing precocity end and arrested development begin?
I too am addicted to my iPhone and Mac. So I’m faulting no one coming of age having never known a landline or stamped letter. Yet, even as elevated written communication may be endangered, learning to converse in a thoughtful and compelling manner is not an archaic aspiration. Why then are we raising so many children who chronically text each other in code when they’re in close enough proximity to speak?
Speaking of which, I was invited to a friend’s family dinner. After cocktails, the pre-teen progeny were coaxed to the table, both equipped with assorted handheld electronic paraphernalia. Throughout the meal, the zoned-out tweens ignored the grown-up dialog like vegans hearing Hormel’s recipes for Spam. During dessert, I drolly told the disengaged daughter that she might learn more by listening to her family guest than I will watching her pound an iPad. Not surprisingly, this heartfelt insertion charmed no one.
More recently at lunch, when another distracted barely-teen mumbled between bouts with his Game Boy, it struck me as he fidgeted that, in the absence of transfixed concentration on a digital screen, he suffered withdrawals much as an adult smoker might before they excuse themselves to light up. His mother suggested that I didn’t understand, ‘this new generation’. I told her that I think I do precisely because I’m old enough to remember life before and after the television invaded every American home.
Ironically, that’s when I first learned to amuse myself alone because my erstwhile rugged outdoor playmates had succumbed to indoor appointment TV before and after school and nightly. Then as now, the national debate concerned the long-term ill effects of sedentary gazing at transmitted programing, dumbing down our collective brain trust.
To those raising families who manage to put a premium on physical interactive activity while monitoring, if not mastering, the glorious capabilities that new age applications afford us, I salute you. To those merely raising hell, I understand that you must pick your battles. Consider; it is currently estimated by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health that, by the age of seven, an average child born today will have spent the equivalent of one full year watching screen media 24-hours a day. This after spending all day largely seated in school. None of us wish to complicitly invest in an American futures market where the growth industry potential is a sullen crop of toneless robots.
Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.