Wrestling with Technology

I’m wrestling this week. Wrestling with a stirring inside me that seems to be seeking an outlet. Wrestling with the discomfort it brings me to think of being a fish swimming upstream. Wrestling with where to start, even though if I’m honest with myself I’ve already started so then I wonder if everyone reading this will wonder what the heck I’m talking about.


I’m wrestling with how to be an advocate for education and wisdom in screen technology and media use. 


Go ahead and cue the eye rolling.


I get that people who raise their voices about red flags and the latest research can quickly become white noise. I understand how inconvenient it is to have someone ringing alarm bells about a practice that has become so commonplace and so seemingly necessary that whatever concerns they raise only leave you feeling more anxious and hopeless in the face of the cultural tide. I admit that I know people whose zealous prosthelytizing about organic food, essential oils, or abstaining from vaccines have l led me to care less and less about those particular issues, largely for being turned off by the style of communication. I want to be careful about how I communicate.


But it doesn’t feel quite right to keep quiet about this issue of technology when it feels like it is a steady burn inside my gut saying we need to talk about this. I read a lot about technology and its affects on kids. I read about the affects of screen interaction on the brain. I read about the increased rates of mental health diagnoses in children. I read about how the psychology field is at a loss about how to treat children exhibiting symptoms of decreased attention span, increased hyperactivity, increased defiance and disruption and inability to self-regulate or connect in meaningful ways with others. Children being diagnosed with bipolar disorder is on the rise. It’s increasingly common to have friends, neighbors, family members who have one or more children in the home being identified by teachers and authority figures as needing behavioral intervention of some kind. 


Our kids are suffering. And technology plays a part.


Last month I hosted a Friday Night Nourishment gathering in my home and we talked about technology and media and how to raise healthy kids in a culture obsessed with gadgets, screens, and social networking. In preparation for our discussion one of the moms had put her three year old daughter on a technology fast, removing all television time from the day and drastically reducing the amount of time she and her husband spent on their phones and computers. She saw such dramatic improvement in her daughter’s behavior and sleep patterns within one day that they’ve decided to continue the fast for this stage of her development. The few times she has viewed TV—we’re talking age appropriate, PBS style programming—since the start of this experiment, her behavior has disintegrated so quickly her parents are sold on its negative affects on her cognitive growth. 


Another mother from the same group decided to severely restrict her seven year old son’s TV viewing before school. Within a day she reported marked improvement in his daily behavioral assessments from school, and the improvements had lasted the length of the restriction. 


These are anecdotes, but they are real examples of real people acknowledging what’s right in front of all of us every single day. We all shake our heads and think that’s so sad when we see a grade schooler out to dinner with his family with his headphones on and his eyes glued to a screen, but then as soon as our own child raises a stink we hand over the phone and say I just don’t know how I’d live without this thing.


I am not immune to the temptation to use technology to appease, nor am I under the assumption that using technology wisely in a world utterly mesmerized by its spell is an easy task. I know it’s not. I’m living it with my own three kids right now. But I refuse to acquiesce to cultural norms as though technology addiction is just this generation’s new normal. I want better for my kids. 


I want my kids to know how to read faces and body language cues, not become oblivious to the signs of communication right in front of them because they only know emoticons and text-speak.


I want my kids to develop rich vocabularies and deep levels of thinking because they’ve read material more challenging than a tweet, text, or blog post.


I want my kids to be able to imagine, get lost in their own thoughts, and create things they’ve never seen before because they saw it in their mind’s eye. 


I want my kids to look people in the eye.


I want my kids to be able to speak politely to wait staff, clerks, and adult friends and neighbors. I want them to have a firm handshake. I want them to speak up, say please and thank you, and have an opinion when someone asks, “And what did you think?”


I want my kids to be free to use the tools at their disposal for their benefit and for the living out of their values. I do not want my kids’ values to be dictated or determined by the mini computer in their pocket that has no regard for their humanity, their dignity, or their worth.


I want the same for your kids too.


I am saddened, devastated, and angered at the number of parents I see fooled by marketing, big money, even educators and healthcare professionals who spread the word that screen technology is necessary and beneficial at nearly every age and stage of life, despite ample research to the contrary. I am tired of a society that says if it feels good, do it, and teaches our kids that self-satisfaction is a virtue. 


I’m not willing to nod my head in agreement to the adage “everything in moderation” as I hand over the iPad with a wink and a nod, a silent acknowledgement that we all know how this works. It’s time to speak up. It’s time to let parents know what happens when kids spend too much time on screens. It’s time to say before you get that behavioral eval or try that medication, let’s try removing the television from the bedroom or stop pretending that “educational apps” are going to give our kids a leg up at school. 


I feel passion and I feel conviction, but my voice feels small and my audience even smaller. So be it. I will keep walking this out. I refuse to lose this generation to virtual reality. My feet are planted in the 3D world. My kids are staying right here with me. I hope your kids do too.