I can barely remember what I did in line before the smart phone. Every time I lineup at the grocery store or DQ or the DMV I have a half-dozen games, 4 email accounts, several web pages, and a number of other apps that my fingers can find without really even needing conscious thought. At the first sign of boredom, out comes the phone. So, until Easter, I have given up boredom apps and pointless web surfing. There are some news blogs I’ll read and I will continue to use both my phone and the internet as tools, but until Easter, they will not serve as a solution to boredom.
I realized the other day that I let my phone color the way I see the world. Yes, technically, that is hyperbole, I let things ON my phone color the way I see the world. But regardless, I, and I would argue, we, have too often let our devices to filter our experiences of the world. One of the reasons I will not let our students keep their phones with them all the time at camp is because I want them to experience the moment they are in. The practical issues of them not having phones at all is one that I caved in too, but I take them up for key moments of each day, because I want their focus to be on what is happening rather than on documenting what is happening.
We are killing our kids. I mean we collectively, we as a western, American culture. Part of the reason childhood has devolved in recent years is because of the introduction of smartphones into their world, most people know it, they would just rather play Angry Birds than think about it (I know, that was so 2012, but I think my point stands). Here are 3 of the biggest dangers I see:
(1) What used to be short-term is now permanent. Kids (and) today can’t do anything that just happens and is over. Everything is documented and everything is watched. Someone in your school is as likely to take a picture of your open fly as tell you about it. Of course, then the pic is shared and what would have been embarrassing for an hour or two (if that long) when I was in school, plays out on social media for days or even weeks, sometimes cropping up years later.
(2) What used to be processed is now buried. Used to, you stood in line or you sat at home and boredom turned into creativity or processing or…God forbid, a real conversation. Now, we turn to social media and nuisance games to avoid the boredom that used to help us process and apply creativity. We bury life under a mountain of information, entertainment, and “productivity.” There were 811,911 games (not apps, games) on the app store in 2018. It is so easy to avoid problems and boredom.
(3) What used to be measured by you is now measured by the masses. When we turn things over to social media, it is automatically measured. It is measured in likes, shares, and comments. The measure of our successes has become too strongly tied to the measure given to it by others, particularly for kids who have a harder time filtering out the noise than adults (though, a lot of adults aren’t particularly good at it either).
If we are not careful, everything goes through a tech filter. Nothing is just an experience, in the moment. So what? What about it? Here is my encouragement. Parents, let your kids be bored. They may not like it much at first, but boredom is okay. Give your kids the freedom to experience the world themselves without having everyone else on the planet filter and judge their experiences for them. And give yourself the same freedom.
The practical elements of this will be up to you. For some families, their kids may not need to be on social media and/or smart phones at all, it is a difficult and challenging choice, but if it is right for your family, stick to your guns. That isn’t going to be right for every family though. Its okay to let your kids have a phone and get on some social media platforms at the right age (there are some that are so unhealthy I would never advise using them, but another time). But teach them moderation. Model it and set boundaries that enforce it for them. Set times and places that are tech free or do something similar that works for your family. Teach them not to depend on devices, apps, or tech to relieve stress and solve boredom. Give them space to experience the world unfiltered and to dream unimpaired.