One of my professors at Gonzaga University has given me a challenge by posing this question:
Although every generational cohort experiences a variety of potential detractors, how are social media, speed of communication, and interactive games shaping a new set of life skills applied to reconstruct meaning during adversity or mundane moments?
If you are like me, you might be pondering what my professor is really asking.
In a national survey performed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010, it was discovered that kids ages 8-18 years-old were interfacing with some sort of technology – “entertainment media”, 7 hours and 38 minutes each day (KFF, 2010). This means that our kids are on their phones, computers, or other screens virtually every waking minute outside of school and special activities. With that being said, there is no need to spend time arguing the positive or negative impact that technology has on our kids. Unless you and I are planning on moving to the South Pole or another of the chart remote location, technology is here to stay.
What is important, is for us to discuss how we will teach our kids to find meaning in a world of illusion. Think about your past and the ways you have created meaning in moments of adversity or moments of boredom. Most likely, you made a choice. You decided to do nothing or you decided to change your circumstance either in thought or in action. Your decisions determined your future. You either unequivocally remained the same or you chose to reconstruct the situation, experience, or environment into something positive. If you chose the latter, you turned a negative into a positive or an obstacle into an opportunity. Bravo!
Isn’t this what we want to teach our children? But turning obstacles into opportunity is not as simple as it may seem. In school, we are learning that people can only achieve meaning by overcoming our ontological anxieties. I am pretty sure that knowing big words like “ontological anxieties” are required for me to receive my master’s certificate, but if you are like me and didn’t know what that meant until now, “ontological anxieties” basically means: fear. You need to overcome fear to move into your future and experience meaning.
Other important factors in creating meaning in life and choosing the positive in the negative are commitment to stay connected to others, the desire to have influence in outcomes, and the ability to learn from every challenge.
A person whose life has meaning is continually morphing themselves through the learning process. They are creative, imaginative, and innovative.
Knowing how a person can create meaning when faced with adversity or boredom, let me ask this question: “How does technology aid or abet our kids in this goal?”
In an article posted in Psychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor says that the invention of the internet has thrust our kids into a “vastly different environment in which, because distraction is the norm, consistent attention is impossible, imagination is unnecessary, and memory is inhibited” (Taylor, 2012). In the same article, technology writer, Nicholas Carr notes the contrast between reading a book and online interaction. While reading encourages imagination and focus, the internet strengthens a person’s ability to scan and evaluate information rapidly” (Taylor, 2012).
On a positive note, the internet gives us access to information at an impressive speed. One no longer has to commit to memory an undetermined about of facts to rely on later. Like Einstein said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” The ability to answer any question by the click of a finger leaves room for the brain’s higher-level thinking like contemplation, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
I also read statistics that reported kids use the internet for studying or fact-finding anywhere between 2% – 25% of the time they are on technical devices which would generously drop the time our kids interact with media entertainment to 6 hours a day.
How does all this information lead us in helping our kids create meaning in a world of illusion?
First, we realize that technology is power and we decide if it will aid in our child’s success, or in their demise. After all, it is estimated that half of the future jobs in America will be computerized, but a person’s success will be determined by their social skills and determination (Rutkin, 2013).
Here are my ideas for empowering our kids in a life of meaning:
1: Read Real Books
Reading out loud as a family not only helps each person to engage their imagination in the story, it also builds confidence and a person’s vocabulary. (When I read the quote by Einstein to my 12-year-old, my son said, “That can’t be a quote by Einstein, the internet wasn’t created yet.” Okay, enough said.)
2: Make and Take Action on a Family Value Statement
In our family, we value God and others above and beyond technology. Making a family value statement reminds us in the midst of our busy days to put others first.
3: Write a Family Contract
What works for your family and your schedule? We developed a plan to do homework and chores before play-time with all computers and phones turned off at dinner and beyond (This includes Mom and Dad too.) Of course, there is always the occasional exception for late night homework or work projects. We don’t live in a bubble.
4: Talk to Your Kids
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “This is just the way kids these days act.” Your kids will follow the example set before them. If you are not that example, they will follow someone else.
What are your ideas for teaching our kids meaning in a world of illusion? Please share will our community, your thoughts and ideas have value!