"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No thank you, we'll stay plugged...

Addiction -  noun -  the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.  (From dictionary.com)

The CBS show, The Doctors says:  "Studies show that one in 10 kids is seriously addicted to videogames and media, and those who watch more than four hours of TV per day are at greater risk of heart disease as they grow older."

I heard this on their show yesterday (it's also printed on the synopsis on their website) and aside from an initial feeling of annoyance that television is being vilified again... you know what?  Not annoyance.  Boredom.  I'm bored from repeatedly hearing about this kind of study, and frustrated that they don't have something more worthwhile to share with us.  Aside from that, what  immediately comes to mind is questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Exactly what kind of "studies" did they do?  Over what period of time?  And on whom?  Are these all school children who spend most of their day behind desks before they come home and play videogames or watch TV?  Did they include homeschooled kids?  Are they otherwise active?  Do they have other hobbies?  What is their diet like?  What is their relationship with their family like?  How are they defining "addicted?"  

Quite simply, there's not nearly enough information there for me to take it seriously.   But what's really disheartening to me-  about this as well as similar anti-media messages - is that it is based in fear.  So much of what we hear about television, video games, and media in general is so very steeped in fear.  They are evil.  They rot your brain.   They make you violent.  They make you hyper.  They make you lazy.  They cause blood clots and heart disease and obesity.  Not long ago, I left an unschooling group after being told that because I did not limit screen time, I was "encouraging slothfulness, which is the worst kind of sin."  Fear.

I never want to make any decision for my children based on fear.  I never want to place limits on tools and resources (yes - televisions, computers, and video games are resources) that are as valuable as any other, simply because of some vague - albeit widely held - misconceptions about how 'bad' they are.

I don't need to know about facts, figures and studies to be able to learn from what I see and experience in my own home.  In my house, my kids are as free to use the computer, play video games, or watch television as they are to do anything else.  And the truth is, they are not intelligent and creative in spite of it;  they are intelligent and creative in part because of it.  Computer skills in general are an invaluable, and in most cases necessary, facet of our adult lives. We use computers for everything from gathering information to communicating with others to paying our mortgage. Video games are great for practicing cooperative play, critical thinking, math, science, and problem solving. 

And television?  I could write an entire series of posts about what we've learned from television, and still barely scratch the surface.  Television brings an entire world into our living room.  We don't have the means to travel to obscure and beautiful countries... but we can watch Bear Grylls do it.  We don't have the experience or the facilities to scientifically test the validity of widely-held myths... but we can watch the Mythbusters do it.  It can show us how to cook, take us inside an operating room, and let us feel like we're a part of a police investigation.  Or a commercial fishing trip.  Or a journey to the bottom of the ocean.  As for those 'other' shows... the sitcoms, the dramas, the next top model bachelorette housewife idols of America... The great thing about modern day television, and the advent of DVRs, is that we get to choose what we do and do not want to watch.  And aside from entertaining us and making us laugh (which, if you ask me, is no small thing in and of itself), even shows like this are often a catalyst for great conversations with the kids:  about people, about life, about the difference between reality and scripted television.   Learning is truly everywhere.  Television is not an exception.

One of the reasons that a lot of people give for not allowing television is that they want their kids to use their imaginations;  they want them to be more focused on creative play.  But the two are not mutually exclusive!  By all accounts, my kids are some of the most creative kids I know.  My 3 year old can (and does) spend an entire afternoon playing with a leaf, or a baby doll, or her play kitchen.  My 7 year old has never met a science experiment or a magic trick that he did not like.  My 11 year old just took it upon himself to start fashioning swords out of pvc pipe and foam.  My 14 year old likes to take apart and rebuild nerf guns and lawn mowers and engines just for fun.   These aren't mindless zombies who are slaves to electronics... but smart, well-rounded kids who recognize media for what it is:  no more or less than a really cool and useful tool;  one that we're lucky to have. 

Could we live an unplugged life?  Sure.  We do it every time we go camping (and it should be noted, not one of us suffers "severe trauma" because of our cessation) We could live without electronic media. We could live without books too. And music. And poetry.  And running water.  But just because we can, doesn't mean it's somehow preferable.

We live in a world that allows us to surround ourselves with all kinds of things from which to learn:   from people and places and experiences, to books and art and music, to computers and video games and televisions.   It wouldn't make sense to me, living in 2011,  not to avail ourselves ... to learn from, to grow from - and to enjoy - all of the above.

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