Wednesday, February 22, 2012

kids & screens

The other day, my two sons (one is 5 years old and the other is 14 months) and my niece (also 5 years old) were arguing over who got to play with the two dead phones we have lying around the house to be used as toys. (We also have two actual toy phones, but those aren't as exciting as the "real" ones!) Everyone wanted the old flip phone, but I handed an old cordless wall phone to my niece while she was waiting for her turn with the flip phone. She said, "No, I don't want that one--it doesn't have a screen." (The picture at right is of a teething ring you can put your iPhone into so your baby can be entertained and soothed with an iPhone app. Yikes!)

This tells me something about myself, for sure, and my parenting/aunt-ing, but it also makes me wonder about how we help kids to engage with life in ways other than through screens. It's probably important for kids to be computer-literate--that will certainly be important (barring some sort of apocalyptic-style event that wipes out all technology) in future school and jobs. But I think beyond that it's important kids can function without a screen--that they can play creatively, learn to self-soothe and be able to be still.

A friend of mine who is also a Friend and a psychiatrist, Doreen Dodgen Magee, has done a lot of research on the topic of kids and technology. She emphasizes the importance of allowing kids to be bored sometimes. This develops creativity, self-control and awareness of self and self-in-relationship. I think this is so important! (Doreen is an excellent speaker, by the way--she gives talks to parents and professionals on kids and technology, as well as parenting in general.)

At this point we limit our 5-year-old's screen time to half an hour on most days (unless it's a special occasion of some sort or we let him watch a full-length movie or something). This includes video/computer games, games on phones, his V-Reader, anything on the computer, and of course TV and movies. This is a definite challenge already! I'm not sure we should even let him have half an hour per day, but it's hard when he sees us using screens all the time. The problem is, his brain is still developing, and we want it to develop well.

Doreen talked about a study that's been done on 3- to 5-year-olds since the 1960s where they are given a marshmallow, and the adult says, "I'm going to leave for a couple minutes. When I come back, if you haven't eaten the marshmallow, I'll give you another one." In the '60s, about 90% of the kids would wait and get two marshmallows. Today it's less than 5%. Another study found that kids in the '60s could stand still when told for about 3 minutes; today kids average zero seconds. ZERO SECONDS! They do not know how to stand still. These show how little self-control kids are being taught, and how few of them even begin to understand the concept of delayed gratification. (Here's an article from NPR on this study, although it's a few years old.)

I'll brag on my own kid for a minute: at Christmas we gave him some various kinds of candy and gum in his stocking, and said he could keep it and decide when he wanted to eat it. (Previously we've always had control of the candy, putting it on top of the fridge and doling it out when there's a particular reason to celebrate.) He still has some of the candy and gum left! And it wasn't like we gave him copious amounts of it. So I guess he knows a little bit about self-control and delayed gratification.

Something convicting to me is that I have to be willing to be bored sometimes myself--or, if not exactly bored, to be fine with "doing nothing," which really isn't boring once you get into it. I have to have self-control and exercise delayed gratification. I have to be willing to not always be entertained; I have to be willing to be creative and find things to do that don't require screens. (Currently I'm being creative on a screen, so I'm not sure exactly where that falls.) Part of this, as a Friend, comes through being still: learning to take space to just be, and to intentionally commune with God without the distraction of a screen. Sure, God can and does speak to us through screens, but I'm suspicious that we'll be more aware of how God is working if we spend some of our lives without focusing on a screen.

Doreen told me about a study done at Stanford on meditation, as well as some really helpful work done at UCLA. (Here's a website about the Stanford study, and here's a download of the findings. UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center website has some excellent information, research and even classes you can take online about "mindfulness." There are tools you can use in doing "mindfulness" or meditation practices. There is research on using "mindfulness awareness" with kids with ADHD, and other research on kids and mindfulness.) The Stanford study found that doing meditation 10 minutes/day (or 3x/day for 3 minutes) significantly increases one's ability to be compassionate. So maybe if we can all tear ourselves away from our screens for just 10 minutes a day, and teach our kids to do the same, the world will be a better place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff! A lot of things I have been thinking about and agree with. It's nice to know other moms are on the same page. :)