We weren’t made for this: living in a world of input overload

I was a teacher on 9/11/2001 in a public high school in Illinois.

When the towers fell, millions of school kids watched nothing else for days on end. Ours didn’t. Not because we didn’t think it was important. It was. We weren’t ignoring reality.

It was a brand new school, and the TVs weren’t hooked up. We talked about it, processed, even wrote some poetry, but then we moved on and resumed normalcy.

We live in a hyper-connected world where people’s tragedies and struggles go viral, where we can be reached anytime, anywhere – by strangers as well as friends. While being informed and aware is a good thing, I fear that we are unwittingly hurting the mental health of our kids and young people – not to mention ourselves.

We weren’t made for this.

We weren’t made to be accessible 24/7 over Snapchat and sending tweets to hundreds (thousands, millions) of people outside of our inner circle.

We weren’t made for the constant barrage of scandal, strife, and suffering.

We weren’t made for the body shaming, the sex glorification, the objectification that’s all over the screens we harness to ourselves.

We weren’t made for the comparison game – who has what, is going where, is the best at this.

and the truth is, no one has done a long-term study of the impacts of this technology revolution, of having the world at your fingertips from a very young age. They haven’t completed the longitudinal studies because the technological advances and modern “conveniences” are outpacing the science of what’s happening to our minds, our nervous systems, and our relationships.

Some say technology is great – embrace it. Online learning, constant connectivity — it’s the wave of the future, and you don’t want to be left behind.

Others caution moderation, like the AAP, which sets suggested screen time limits for children and teenagers.

There are studies,

though, about dopamine in the brain and how addictive it can be.

There are studies about how excessive screen time damages the brain and about cortical thinning, which is linked to aging and a decline in cognitive function.

There are studies linking even one hour a day of screen time to anxiety, depression, and poor task completion, and yet… we give kids laptops and tablets in schools and call it progress.

And then there’s personal experience. I see my kid struggle with impulse control once he’s been in front of a screen for too long. I see him struggle to self-regulate and to emerge from the techno-zone.

What Works for Us (kids age 8, 5, & 5)

Every family needs to look at their own unique situation and set their own ground rules. Here’s what we’ve currently found helpful:

  • No screens before noon (except for video chats with family)
  • Family ownership of devices (we have one computer, one iPad, one TV, and they only are used with express permission from the parents)
  • Pre-approved shows or apps in public areas only
  • Limits of 20-30 min at a time, no more than 1 hour a day, and some days none at all — they are not entitled to screens

As the kids get older, I’m sure these guidelines will change, but for now, it’s what we’ve chosen.

My kids are only 3 generations removed from my rural farmer grandpa who didn’t even have a TV until he was an adult. Physiologically speaking, our brains are wired for that slower pace.

We were made to connect deeply with a small group of trusted family and friends.

We were made to live life in a community where we tackle hardship together.

We were made to celebrate who we are, take care of ourselves, and be around people who appreciate us with no strings attached.

We were made to live in a diverse group where everyone contributes what they can, and the fastest, smartest, and prettiest is no more valued than the most mechanically minded or the gentlest caregiver.

People may say we’re sheltering our kids, not exposing them to the “real world”, but really we’re rationing. Just like those solar eclipse glasses let us look into the sun without hurting our eyes, we’re looking at the long-term health and development of our kids and what’s best for them.

Some kids are more sensitive than others. Some are more resilient. We can’t expect them all to have the same needs.

It’s impossible to shield them from all the heartache this world has to offer, but it is hopefully possible to support them, to help them develop healthy attitudes toward technology and our global village, and to see them thrive as independent adults in this brave new world.

This post has been part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop about Parenting iGen.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I agree that this “experiment” with technology is unfolding with uncertain results. We are seeing the first generation develop with a barrage of technology as part of their lives, and we are already seeing a cost. How many kids trade in reading for screen time? How many are attached to their phones? I like your idea of “rationing” time on screens. We need to help kids pace themselves and achieve some balance and perspective.


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