I grew up in a time before the internet. Well, before the internet was actually entertaining. When electronic mail would take the same amount of time as sending a real letter, watching Television on a computer seemed absurd, and the term “Social Media” was unknown to the public. While I often hug my phone like a lost puppy after misplacing it, I find myself thinking of life before the internet, smartphones, social media and global multi-player gaming and wonder, did people actually die of boredom back in the day?
I love the internet, I use it literally everyday. It is helpful, it is necessary for me to complete tasks and transactions, and regularly helps me find the correct way to get somewhere. It is wonderful, but it is difficult to pull away from. In some places, it seems like it is inescapable. If we are always connected, we are always reminded of tasks we need to do and our workplace engulfs the areas we reserve for ourselves and our families. Then we begin to feel bombarded by work, by future impending tasks, replies, comments, or self appointed distractions. And to make it worse, this is drifting down to children.
I remember hearing someone say “It is physically painful for small children to sit still”. There is a lot of truth to this because the developmental stage children are at requires activity for growth and development. They need movement, they need physical activity and if this is restrained, it will manifest itself into fidgety little actions that are often met with “sit still and be quiet”. The odd thing is, these “problems” are less of a “problem”...and that's a problem!
The Digital Age
Children are interacting with media at such young ages now, that they or more capable to adapt to the increased speeds of the digital age, but at the loss of both physical and social interaction. The real danger here is that they can begin to create aversions to things that inhibit their interaction with digital devices. A bright sunny day outdoors might be less attractive to someone who wants to use their phone or tablet. This means increased brightness and more battery consumption, so why go outside?
The other issue created is isolation. At earlier ages, children are able to avoid conversations with others. They are able to create a world that allows for only the things they wish. For those who tend to be naturally shy, they are given an alternate route to avoid people instead of interaction. This includes interaction with potential friends of common interests. With the removal of their digital device, children who have formed a dependency on this may even exhibit aggressive or anxious behaviors. The case, we are pulling them out of an environment they know and removing what has become a virtual security blanket.
As parents, if this is a preferred situation you wish to avoid for your children, a growing concern you have, or a current situation you are dealing with, there are ways to wean them off of batteries. In most parks, playgrounds, and recreational centers, a phone or digital device can still be used. If your child (or even you) is having a hard time disconnecting from their device, there is one place you can take them where electronics will have little domain, and does not require you to travel to a remote area. The Pool!
Yes, I am aware that many phones are waterproof. I understand that more devices are capable of getting wet without completely being destroyed. But the reality is, a waterproof phone is still more difficult to use in an aquatic environment. Touch screens do not respond the same when wet, answering a call in a natatorium is a nightmare in or out of the water, and swimsuits are not really designed with places to hold your phone. It is one place that still creates an environment of less electronic use. The other wonderful thing is, most of the people attending the pool will avoid using their devices frequently.
If you do not have immediate access to a local pool, or prefer not to pay country club prices, there are excellent alternatives. A small plastic pool from your department store, whether hard shell, inflatable or fold-able is a great and fairly inexpensive way for small children to still enjoy the water. Another big trend I have begun to see is local parks putting fountains at ground level. They do this with the intent of people being allowed to walk through them. On a hot day, this is an excellent alternative to enjoy the water, be outside and forget the electronics.
Children are constantly overwhelmed and overstimulated by technology. As I said earlier, it seems like it is inescapable. We want our children to be knowledgeable, social, and healthy. However, the continual stream of information at their young age is too much. Children should not be required to keep up with them same amount of information adults need too. Honestly I believe adults are often overstimulated and overwhelmed by the amount of information and data swooping through their screens. The simplicity of play is a release that allows their mind and body to physically recover from stress.
If you feel your child has a hard time disconnecting from electronics, or needs physical activity, look for a pool or aquatic environment. It will allow them to interact with others, learn a valuable skill and add health to their physical being. Technology is great. Humans existed long before it, because they created it. Allow your child to cultivate a playful childhood, to disconnect from technology and let their mind run free.