by Mike Orange
I was born in 1960. So, my childhood and teen years were completed by the end of the 1970’s. The first television that I remember was black and white. If you wanted to change the channel to one of the five available you had to get up and walk across the room. Play time was almost always outside. We looked around the neighborhood, scouting for someone else who was looking for something to do. Eventually, there would be several of us playing some game. We had enough kids in the area to get together a football or baseball game. We created race courses through the nearby woods to race our bikes. Our parents didn’t worry much about our being safe, as long as we told them what we were doing and where we would be. One family had a big bell outside on their front porch. When the bell rang you could hear it all over the neighborhood. That signal meant that their daughters had five minutes to be in their house.
If you wanted to communicate with someone, your options were limited. You could call them on their home phone that was tethered to the wall by a chord. You could physically go to their house, hoping that they would be there. Finally, you had the option of writing a letter, but that rarely happened. Communication was always voice to voice or face to face. Conflicts were resolved person to person. It was a very “human” process.
What a stark contrast to today. I’m not judging it as being better or worse. I’m just stating the obvious. Technology has advanced greatly over the past four or five decades. A computer that used to fill up a room can now fit in the palm of your hand. Access to people is much more instant and varied. One can communicate with someone on the other side of the world with ease. Two Sundays ago at church our congregation skyped live with a missionary family in Africa. It is amazing what we can do.
This week I was talking at lunch to our Art teacher, Miss Demmitt. She was telling me some interesting things about a project her upperclassmen are doing, boys and girls alike. They are knitting. An expert is visiting the class and teaching them to knit. I tried knitting once. It is difficult to learn, right. Miss Demmitt told us how the students were hesitant and frustrated at first. Then, one student made an interesting comment. They said that while knitting their mind was active, but they weren’t worrying about anything. Over a couple of days the students demonstrated extreme frustration and vowed never to knit again. Then, they would return to their “box” and take their knitting supplies home for the night. They got excited when they began to get the hang of it. They swayed between hating it and declaring that they were going to make a beautiful sweater for their “next” project. They were having to experience a hands-on craft and problem solve to accomplish a goal.
What a wonderful project! It reminds me that, while technology provides many beneficial solutions to our lives, there is still value in learning from the simple things. Experts today tell us that we and our children spent way too much time looking at “screens” of various kinds. Technology provides instant results. If you need to solve a problem, someone else has already done the work, so you only need Google or YouTube. All of the thought work has been done for us. Some people actually experience severe anxiety if they don’t have continual access to their smartphone.
So, part of successful parenting should be helping our kids experience the goodness and blessings of life that aren’t found on a screen or with a controller. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, consider getting your children something that requires them to learn something new, involves hands-on activity, forces them to solve problems and endure frustration to complete a task. You might just discover that it opens up a whole new world for them. If we want our kids to spend less time on a screen, we need to make sure that there is something of value there to fill the void. Maybe yarn and some knitting needles are a good place to start.