Imagine misplacing your ten year old - a digital native - and looking for him in vain. You try shouting, phoning, Facebooking, Tweeting, Slacking, Skyping, texting, Face-timing with no answer.
Then, suddenly, your digital-immigrant brain suggests 'Minecraft'. You log-into his user account on your laptop. You launch the game, you maneuver your way around the hot lava, through the pen of sheep. You swim the length of his 200 yard lap pool, climb the stairs of his McMansion, and traverse his booby-trapped garden. Pass through his grotto, hike the verdant fields beyond and there you find him - riding a horse. You catch up to him, clash swords, grab his attention and you text ‘phone, home, now!’
A FANTASTIC, FUTURISTIC DREAM? REALITY? NIGHTMARE? FOR ME THIS CLOSE-TO-REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCE WAS ALL THREE.
Until my son turned ten, I set draconian limits on his media consumption and I consumed all media with him (Friday night movies like E.T. and Saturday morning Looney Tunes). But with the proliferation of gadgets in our home like the iPod, DS, and laptop, he began to spend more and more time alone (and with friends) in virtual landscapes.
The desire to limit my son's screen time has always had more to do with my gut instinct - and Bill Gate's famous decision to limit his kid to 45 minutes a day - than anything else. But it turns out it's not-so-common sense. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends just 1 to 2 hours of entertainment screen time a day for kids over the age of two. Yet the average 13-18 year old spends close to eight hours a day online according to the Pew Research Center.
MIGHT THE CALL TO 'UNPLUG' BE A RALLYING CRY FOR TODAY'S KIDS?
My favorite health writer, the New York Times' Jane Brody, recently published an article "Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children" illustrating that "..there’s no question that American youths are plugged in and tuned out of “live” action for many more hours of the day than experts consider healthy for normal development." With a follow up article "How to Cut Children’s Screen Time? Say No to Yourself First." she bluntly states"Parents are often at fault, directly or indirectly, when children and teenagers become hooked on electronic media, playing video games or sending texts many hours a day instead of interacting with the real world and the people in it."
Long before reading these articles and the studies Brody quotes, my young son and I discussed how to maintain our eye-to-eye, face-to-face, parent-to-child connection as he stands on the brink of middle school where even his relationships with peers may soon play out on Social Media.
TOGETHER WE BRAINSTORMED THE 'KIDS, UNPLUG!' RALLYING CRY TO INSPIRE PARENTS AND KIDS TO UNPLUG.
Unplugging is a challenge for both of us - how do we determine the weather? the time? communicate with friends (not the dreaded telephone!), find recipes for dinner? the rules of Crazy 8s? Like any worthwhile pursuit - it takes practice (even discipline). But there are huge benefits to it - not the least of which is nurturing my son's skills in the real world - from eye contact to the art of conversation and play. Not to mention my own skills, will I ever beat him at a game of "spit”?