We hope that this back-to-school season is off to a fantastic start, and that your summer was filled with some sweet, screen-free family time! Since last October, we have been posting excerpts from our book-in-progress: Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World (©2017). Below you will find the last excerpt in this series, addressing the subtle shifts in our children’s behavior as more and more time is spent on digital distractions. You might have noticed that this topic is beginning to receive the much-needed attention it deserves; each day new articles detail the necessity for parents and educators to examine when and how children are engaging with screens. Over the last few months, we have experienced a surge of interest in our presentation and student curriculum from schools looking for ways to start and sustain a conversation with their parent and student bodies. We would love to hear from you on how your communities are addressing raising kids with human values in this increasingly digital world.
Lessons from Pinocchio:
In the Disney version of Pinocchio, the endearing wooden boy with a great propensity for lying is offered a trip to Pleasure Island where children are free to do anything they like, with no rules and no parents to dictate their behavior. For a while Pinocchio delights in the freedom. He eats nothing but candy, breaks things for the fun of it, smokes, drinks, steals…you get the picture. Jiminy Cricket, watching out for his friend, learns that Pleasure Island has a secret. The longer you play on Pleasure Island, the more you lose what makes you human—the children are slowly turning into donkeys. Once the transformation is complete, they are sold into slavery.
There are many reasons that children are drawn to games. Peter Gray is a clinical psychologist who has written extensively about the importance of free play in child development. Gray suggests that, unlike the past when parents would send their children out to play without adult supervision, there are very few places today where children can escape a hovering adult, except online. For the child, part of the thrill of online gaming is that they can explore an environment without being supervised. But this is not free play. When children are truly free to entertain themselves, they create the games, negotiate the rules, assign each other parts, play, argue, change the game, and eventually decide to do something else. Their activity is structured solely by their imagination and the cooperation of their friends. The online game is created by a team of adults. The structure is designed so that the child “wins” just enough to keep the adrenalin flowing. The goal is to keep him playing forever.
If you are going to take a strong stand against gaming, it is important to understand that free, unsupervised play is an important part of childhood. Connect with other parents and strategize about how to create environments where your kids can play without an adult watching every move, where children can experience independence without being shaped by game developers.
Throughout this book we’ll explore the many reasons why we turn to the cyber world for entertainment and you will have chances to create family guidelines that reflect your values. For now, focus on becoming aware of what you are modeling. Ask yourself how often, when, and why you are accessing online entertainment. How does it make you feel? When is it enhancing your life? What are you missing by escaping into the cyber world?
Take It Home