The Power of Pixels

(Wow – somehow time got away and I haven’t written for awhile, despite the fact that there are 4-5 “posts” running through my head and drafted in some form or another. An article I read today prompted me to finish up this one!)

It wasn’t until I looked up that I realized what I had been doing. I was idly scrolling through something on my phone and looked up to find that I was in the presence of my boys but not in the present. A very small flicker, a short reflection, a moment in time when I was not connected with them. Nothing bad had happened while I wasn’t paying attention, but that was the point. I wasn’t paying attention. Do my boys know that I’m not paying attention?

When they were younger and “smart phones” were new, I definitely made sure that I was focused on them (the kids, not the phones). Of course, there was also much more to pay attention to – the first step, the tip of the plate of spaghetti onto the floor, the endless bedtime routine, the careening down the wooden stairs, the first two-wheel bike ride. Yet as they all approach school age, my focus has drifted and I am less attentive and more distracted by something that easily slips from my pocket to my hands.

Today the boys lounged on my sister’s couch for a couple hoursscreen creating and blowing up each other’s structures in Minecraft with a mixture of joy, frustration, and plenty of noise. They would have continued much longer had we not kicked them out to the pool. As we walked over, I thought about my discontent with their “need” for screen and yet my clear modeling of the use of a screen for me. They swim. I look at my screen. They create Indiana Jones adventure routines. I look at my screen (until they’re ready to perform, that is).

This is not to say that I need to be “attending” to them at all times. If we pay too much attention to kids, they have no space or time to learn to entertain themselves and develop skills and confidence. I certainly let my boys spend tons of time out of my line of sight and out of my ready input into their activities. The question is, am I showing the boys that I am spending my time wisely or am I modeling ways to “waste” time and attention with short blurbs and snippets of culture.

Sitting in a local coffee shop to squeeze in some work before a meeting the other day, my eyes wandered to the preschool girl in the chair nearby. The mother’s friend was engaging her in a conversation (“when does school start? Is your daddy working today”) while looking down at her own cell phone instead of the child. While the adult brain knows that it can multi-task the response to the text and attend to the answers of a little girl, what is the girl’s perspective? Does she know she is only getting a fraction of the attention? What is the adult modeling to her?

So how can I fault my boys as they start to show more hunger for screens? The power of pixels captures the eye and the brain. The problem is, more and more research is showing just how powerful and damaging that screen can be for the brain. In fact, a recent New York Times article referred to it as “digital heroin.” It is addictive and can interfere with engagement with other facets of life and most importantly with relationships with others.

Time to change. Time for me to put down my little addiction and pick up a book (or that board exam material I should be reading). Time to talk to my little guys a bit more about why I restrict their screen time (and it’s not because I’m “Mean Mommy”).  Time to think more and be more conscientious and get around to instituting that Game Night weekly. It’s going to be a continuous challenging battle, but it’s one I must fight. Wish me luck 🙂