While I’m on the subject of the role of wonder in kids’ lives, we should talk about one of the threats to that sense of wonder today: screens—TV, cell phones and internet.
Tish Harrison Warren recently had an article in the New York Times titled, “Parents can help their children live healthier digital lives.” She spoke with Krista Boan, a co-founder of Screen Sanity, a nonprofit helping parents, grandparents and others deal with this.
Boan says, “We hear from families that technology is the No. 1 battleground in their homes…70 percent of parents assert that screens and technology are now a distraction from family time and device use causes weekly or daily arguments in nearly 50 percent of households.”
A big new study from Cambridge university found that “social media use was strongly associated with worse mental health during certain sensitive life periods, including for girls ages 11 to 13…Today’s teens are less likely to go out with their friends, to get driver’s licenses or play youth sports.”
Boan talks about parents who say “they’ve seen the light go out in their kids’ eyes after having introduced them to the digital world without giving them a plan or boundaries to help them navigate it.”
So yes, this is a very real concern. Warren points out that this growing use of screens is actually screening outkids’ interaction with life and the world.
She says, “My growing concern is that even the best types of screen use displace the actual material world around us. Minutes or hours on screens are minutes or hours kids (and adults) are not talking to people around them, going on walks, learning an instrument, staring into space or interacting with the material world.”
Boan responds that “Jonathan Haidt calls screens ‘experience blockers’—putting a screen in your kid’s hand prohibits them from experiencing the world” and learning and growing through that experience.
She gives the example of handling a toddler a screen when you’re in a store and they start to throw a tantrum. That’s tempting, but she says, “every time you do make that exchange you have to consider that there’s a cost…By allowing them to go through the experience of having a meltdown and not getting what they want, you are actually building a muscle of delayed gratification, of developing these coping mechanisms that, long term, are the things that you want them to have as teenagers, when they experience something that’s hard or disappointing or embarrassing or they don’t get what they want…
“Another example for parents of little ones is children’s boredom. It can be excruciating to deal with as a parent. And it is so tempting to just pacify them. [But] boredom is the doorway to deep creativity. If they can get through the conflict they’re experiencing internally, they will go into deep play. Deep play helps us keep calm and be recentered.”
In other words, screens, which are flat, can have a flattening effect on the hearts, souls, and minds of children. But what we want for them is hearts that have a sense of the depth, richness, variety, awe and wonder of life itself. And, of course, reading good books helps with that.
I like the way Screen Sanity puts it: they are working to create a world where kids are captivated by life, not screens. You can learn more at www.screensanity.org.