“No screens,” he said bluntly.
“What?” I replied.
With young children of my own, I had asked a friend of mine, Michael, who works as a “life coach” helping adolescents and their parents, what he felt was the biggest issue for families these days.
Michael didn’t even pause before explaining himself: “Keep them away from screens as long as you can. For some reason, kids don’t do well processing their world through computer screens - of all sorts. The feedback is too fragmented and they don’t learn to work through issues.”
His words have stayed with me, but I don’t know what to do about them. The advantages of a digitally connected family are obvious. I want to know where my kids are, if they change plans, if there’s a problem, and if they want to get ahold of me. I also see that the modern world orbits around a touch screen to the point of overcrowding the available bandwidth; and families, already a threatened institution in the western world, don’t need another reason to avoid spending time together.
I want my kids to use technology, but I don’t want it to stunt their interpersonal skills. I hope they’ll learn to filter the buckets of worthless information online from the golden kernels of learning, opportunity, and self-improvement. I don’t want to hide them from the world, but I don’t want to have a text-based relationship with them either.
I know I’m not alone. I’d guess many parents are in a similar quandary.
My only strategy is this: immersion in nature at every opportunity. For me, the natural world - be it going fishing, or hiking up a spectacular mountain ridge - makes the screen-based parts of life seem incredibly shallow. When you’re surrounded by 365 degrees of natural stimulation tickling every sense known to man, suddenly a palm-sized touch screen seems like a pretty insignificant window on the world.
A progressive school in the United States, featured in Richard Louv’s bestselling book Last Child in the Woods, intentionally avoids computer-based school work until high school. The school gives them a break from, as Louv explians, “the electronic impulses coming at them all the time, so their sensory abilities are more open to what is happening naturally around them.”
The specifics don’t seem so important. Be it an unforgettable guided mountain adenture, or just playing catch in the nearest park, the natural world offers something that the computer world doesn’t even come close to providing.
Computers are great. My wife and I use them every day. Our kids like them too. I don’t plan to lock up my screens, but I do plan to give them every opportunity to see that the sweetest experiences the world has to offer don’t come from a computer screen.
What do you think? Are screens getting in the way of your relationship with your children?
Photo of teens finding their own bandwidth on a CMH Summer Adventure.