Human behavior fascinates me. Having worked with children for the past 20 years, I am especially intrigued with child behavior as it evolves from the reactive impulses of an infant, to the insatiable curiosity of a child, to the reluctant involvement of early adolescence, to the apparent indifference of teenagers. What prompts these changes? I have often wondered if it is possible to retain the childlike wonder and unstoppable exuberance for learning new things through every stage of human development. Does it have to end with puberty?
Research shows that the newborn mind enters the world with a myriad of synapses just waiting to be wired in (pardon the lack of scientific terminology). This is why the growing infant and very young child learn so much so rapidly. However, as they pass through the preschool years, the unused synapses begin to die off and learning begins to require more effort from them. It is often human nature’s preference to choose the easy road and the more effort that learning requires, the less inclined the older child is to enjoy it. If left unchecked, this avoidance of all things difficult can seep into every aspect of life that requires effort: work, household responsibilities, cultivating relationships, time with Jesus, community involvement, etc. These young people reach adulthood aspiring only to skate on the surface of life, living only for the moment, and expecting everyone else to put forth the effort for them. How can this be avoided? How can we cultivate adults who thirst for depth and long for challenges? Is it possible to form people who glean from history, absorb all that the present has to offer, and are excited about the surprises of the future? Absolutely.
In some ways the solution is both simple and complicated. It is simple because it can be done with one decision; it is complicated because that decision is completely countercultural. Limit your child’s access to the television and electronics. I have already noticed an almost magnetic attraction between my 7-month old and my phone. He has the whole wide world to look at, yet his eyes and hands are instantly drawn to that tiny electronic device no matter where it is. The rapidly changing images, the sounds, the bright colors, presented to our young ones, with zero effort on their part, all work together to enamor, capture, and limit the young minds of our children. Parents can easily succumb to the relief this free babysitter brings or buy into the claim that Baby Einstein and PBSKids are educational and developing the minds of their children. The truth is that George Washington, Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and so many more were either self-taught or homeschooled for most of their early academic years. They built a nation without TV or IPads. Can we do the same?
As I mentioned above, my solution is highly countercultural. The entertainment and electronic industries have woven themselves into the fabric of our society. In some ways, we can’t live without the latter. Our kids need to be tech-savvy in order to function successfully in this world; they simply need to be taught how to use the devices and not be used by them. Our children must develop self-control and recognize that there is a time and a place for everything, even TV and electronics. In our family, the TV will be introduced after our son is well into his toddler years. We plan to only watch pre-selected movies or shows on a specific night of the week; the TV will not be a prominent fixture in our living room and will instead be tucked away in a cabinet or covered with a cloth of some sort. The computer will be kept in plain view of the family, have parent-monitoring controls, and only be used with permission for specific tasks. Reading, playing board games, acting out skits, camping in the backyard, exploring the great outdoors, setting up tents and forts in the house, painting, sculpting, cooking, and dog training are all being added to our list of entertainment favorites for our family. Yes, those all require more energy and effort than simply pushing a button, but our kids are going to live life instead of merely watching it on a screen while it passes them by just outside the door.