I guess sometimes even the most idealistic and philosophical parents have to let their kids do frivolous things, that deep down they suspect are such, but just playin’ around to make sure, and because it’s a free world (at that level at least). Sometimes all it takes is a wry smile and a shake of the head to put in my two cents. Pretty soon the child is asking him or herself good questions: it this how I should be spending my time? Am I missing out on something more valuable? Who or what is driving this trend and why? There’s a lot of room for that kind of learning in these years of youth, and I’d like it to be in realms where it’s not life or death and wounds are not deep or lasting. So satisfying to have conversations with my teens about what they are discovering, their questions, their processes, and sometimes, whadyaknow? they can change and broaden my mind, show me a value I hadn’t noticed before.
I want my kids to think, not just act and react. Think about the music and other media they take in, think about the way their school life works, and why, and what’s wrong or right or needing improvement, and what choices they have in that. Observe their peers, their teachers, other folks and see how they live, what they think, what’s worth emulating, what’s not. Work out their own approach to relating to various kinds of people in various situations. Inn all of this, there’s no rubric, no progression of quantifiable outcomes in order to move to the next grade, or score the place in the gifted and talented class. In fact, even before I know the outcomes, I try to send the the message, “You’ll get it. You can handle that. I know you can figure it out,” as well as be able to say to themselves. “That was dumb. Better do it differently next time. I’ll try this… Okay, I don’t like where this leads–better get back on track. How will this play out in the long term? What do I really want/care about? Where am I headed, anyway? From whom can I learn now?” ‘Cause these are the things that I use to help me along.
Working through the wad of clipped articles my father sent with his last letter to me, I came upon an interview with Raffi Cavoukian in the June 17 issue of MacLean’s magazine. Raffi–as we all know him—pointed out that social media developers and “cyberutopians,” those who take an entirely positive view of the digital age on the world, completely ignore child development and ecology,and parents and others who allow young children to use these devices regularly (he calls them “shiny tech”) to form a major part of their day risk hindering children’s emotional intelligence.His message is “Tech can wait,” assuring us that when ready, a young person can learn to use these devices in ten minutes anyway, so won’t suffer disadvantages of that kind.
He described an awareness of his dependence on constant engagement with the outside world and a shift toward greater consciousness of his surroundings when he took a Twitter vacation. Also warned of a social media crisis in which “children of all ages are addicted to smartphones and the compulsion to share experiences rather than live them.” And thinking of the research that has been done of the rapid rewiring of the adult brain as well in response to surfing the web and playing computer/shiny tech games, it’s not just children whose brains are changing–adults redevelop new pathways than enable broad, shallow skimming of information, without depth of the need to concentrate. This from what I remember from The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Here’s a NY Times review of the book.
In the Raffi article, I read, “At night, all shiny tech devices need to be taken out of the kids’ bedrooms. Kids should not be going to sleep with their devices.” It was almost my bedtime, and I was thinking rather less subtly than usual, so I promptly announced to the next teen that crossed my path on the way to bed the new rule. Strong reaction. Still, I was determined, though something within was trying to get my attention, something trying to remind me that these were not exactly kids, but youth, and perhaps I was showing a lack of trust. I went out, tried to say more, and realize they deserved a hearing, too. And what I heard from the older one was humbling and a rebuke for my high-handed approach. She said she had been thinking she’d like to depend less on her smart phone for entertainment, was planning to cut down on watching YouTube videos and playing with game apps. It’s just, she said, that she “didn’t have anything else to do.” My immediate thought was that she’d only forgotten about all the things to do (I think shiny tech devices dull the higher reasoning and creative capacities we need to come up with those ideas, plans, and weaken the will to make them happen)–she liked to draw, used to play the piano, read voraciously, enjoy many things that had taken a second place to the immediate gratification and low-grade challenge of phone apps. So I encouraged her, said she’d rediscover those things if she really wanted to. This is another theme I often get to with my kids, how it’s simply harder work to come up with your own plans instead of getting sucked in. Another reason to do what Nicholas Carr usges, to only use shiny devices (to use Raffi’s terminology) and surf the web when you have a purpose and plan. I warn my kids that the folks who made the devices and software do not have their best interests in mind, only to keep them online–keep them viewing the ads sponsoring all the content, basically. I think they’re getting it. Seems most effective to say it clearly, briefly, and often, keep an eye out, encourage them, and trust them. The older teens, at least. My ten year old has to have more restrictions, and this summer my husband and I plan to do more hands-on projects with him, get him more skilled with tools and art supplies so he’ll be more attracted to those healthy pursuits.
It’s a beautiful thing, observing and sharing these moments of learning and synthesis with my kids.I can notice genuine progress, real skills gained, readiness for the next challenges of life, and that is enough. Not to say I don’t have times of anxiety, guilt, frustration, when I wonder if they will grasp by age twenty-five the important life lessons I’ve figured out by my upper forties. And the ones I still only grasp in theory. Because, I hope and trust they will excel their parents, move beyond us, be up to the challenges my generation has only lately realized we have placed on their laps. I can only watch, pray, offer something of value in season, and support, while I continue to grow myself.