Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Screen Part 1: the dilemma

Managing screen-time has become a full-time challenge in our house. My sons' now 7 and 9 years old have grown up in an age, in a place and they have been privileged with access to pretty much every screen known to humankind: TV, Videos, Wii, Game boy, tablet, computer, phone. They are at an age where they can fully grasp the entertainment value of hand-held devices like internet connected smart phones after all, everyone around them has one. Now, before anyone gets carried away with 'doh! no wonder you have problems' comments in our house screen-time has always been limited and touted as a privilege not a right for the little lads to hop on. In fact at this point we don't have TV per se, we have a flat screen monitor connected to nothing but the DVD player and the Wii. Game boys were only permitted for traveling and are destined for the bin having been eclipsed by the tablets (iPads in our family). Computers are only used for educational activities, googling, youtubing, music listening and okay, watching online videos has snuck in of late. Smart phones are parent property and I, at least, have sudoko and not much else in the recreational line on mine...although I am trying to figure out how to hide apps so they are not displayed on the screen (anyone?). Screen time is limited to an educational hour mid-week that now includes work with a meditation app and is not allowed to define the weekend, rather it is ok if it doesn't interfere with whatever else is going on.

We all know the down-side of screens, you can find credible research dating back to the criticism levied against too much Television back in the '70s to the clear issues related to advertising and its impact on our capacity to make good consumer decisions now to tablets, smart phones and computers being implicated in everything from ADD, ADHD, anti-social behaviour, losing creative ability, to obesity. I'd find these for you and add links but I don't have the attention span nor tolerance. Its true, I have to say as I write on my lap-top with 3 Windows open on Chrome, each with at least 9 tabs. I flip from one to the other to facecrack, email (3 accounts), bookmarking pages I want but may never return to covering interest areas including yoga and healing, nutrition, earthquake preparedness, a mess of political meanderings, holiday planning, etc, etc...loads of things crossing the radar. I have been here writing this and its a bit of a record.....going on 8 minutes now. The acute disconnect between the natural world and an artificial one is articulated in this technology. The therapeutic advantage of going for a walk in the greenery rather than staying indoors face inches from a glowing lump of tech does not really have to be proven...we all know which one is better for you. In human contact we distance ourselves with the overuse/abuse of screens. Having these silly devices out with us when we meet up with friends and then texting, tweeting, surfing and scanning takes significantly from the quality time we could have with our friends. The 'Look Up' video says it well. 

I know then that there is an effect of the screen on me although I can discern and focus when the need arises partly (I think) because I had the benefit of years of no internet distraction and book-reading through to University ergo I learned to focus. That said I have always been an A-class procrastinator so perhaps the theory on attention span being inversely correlated to screen time is null. As far as screens go, I first had access to TV in 1967, 3 English, 1 French channels and limited to family shows (Giligans Island, Mr. Dress Up, Hogans Heros, the Flintstones, Bewitched an dI Love Lucy, all familiar to my generation of watchers!). My first computer was a Mac laptop (somethings haven't change!) back in the early '90s and in the past few years tablets and smartphones are on my menu of screen choices. Aside from sudoko and the occasional visit to Angry Birds I don't game on screen at all. I do have a hankering for social media, especially Facebook*.  All that to say, if it affects me the way it does, it must be having a huge impact on the internal 'software' programming of my sons, even an effect on the development of their hardware, the wiring. In some manner affecting their mental capacities of the future. I see their ability to be adept at utilizing the screen for its positive attributes something that will aid them as they navigate our wacky changing world and so take on a parental responsibility of monitoring closely  screen and seeking recourse and remedies to ensure the impact is constructive and contributes to their well-being and ability to be 21st Century-capable adaptable, resilient young men. 

My sons are one of the early generations who have had access to internet-connected smart devices. As a 50 (something) yr old I am of the generation whose University had a computer room with a computer lab attached with monitors connected to the main-frame. My first year papers had to be 'word-processed' and the library was all about card catalogues and micro-fiche. My parents had no exposure to this situation and so really would have no advice to help guide me now. My mother marveled at the internet and without a computer, through our cable TV in 2000 she would email me when I was off working in the wild beyond of East Timor. So, that I call it a challenge, a dilemma sometimes even a problem is because it is a muddle of many things and there is no easy fix, the downstream effect is an unknown and we wait to see whether the kids will grow up well-adjusted or social basket cases or gadget geeks. Who can say?

Moving on...I get fed up with hearing about the problems of too much screen and suggestions that 'how to handle it' simply means limiting it, clearly people who say that don't have kids! My interest  these days has turned to finding solutions for our screen dilemma.  The little boys have their saving grace: they are avid book worms. Zaki, at 5 yrs old just started reading it just sort of came to him and I am sure nightly bed-time storytelling paid at 9 he got the 1st Harry Potter book for his birthday and in the ensuing 3 weeks read the entire 7 book series. Seven months later he is a Harry Potter encyclopedia and has read the series several times. Kasem too loves his books, perhaps not with the same zeal as his older brother but he is a written word consumer of high proportions. In the next section of 'The Screen' I will turn to some ideas for remedying this challenge with screens. Perhaps I approach the screen dilemma with too high a conscious concern and should let go a bit but something tells me no, that to be concerned is to be a good parent and we need to figure it out ourselves....what to do about screen time.

*I would self-diagnose Facebook as easily the most damaging of my screen moments and yet the most magnetic... and like my chocolate addiction I am always trying to cut down on it. Quite simply I let it take time from my day but also the multiple mental diversions on offer splits my attention. Facebook offers up a multitude of distractions, it takes your mind off in a zillion different directions every time you open it and see posts from different groups, friends, etc. If the best thing to do in the morning is a quiet meditation or qi gong practice ;-) then a glance at your facebook is probably the worst, if your sleep is influenced most by the last things you did or said or read in the day...then again facebook is probably the silliest thing to look at just before going to bed...and yet, at both moments in the many of us have a device in our hands? go ahead...admit it, you're addicted.
Screens are everywhere,
here the privileged are traveling business for the first (and only time) moving from KL to Beirut!
Loving every minute!

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