I Fear There Is Something Wrong With Our Kids…
If there’s anyone who should know the impact of devices on our kids, it’s an educator with a Phd in Child Development and Early Childhood Education, whose 50-year career has spanned classroom teaching from the elementary to graduate school level, and three decades in administration as head of school. When I had her, Lucinda Katz, sitting in my living room this past week, I had to ask about her observations. Here’s what she revealed: four to five years ago, the first red flag was when a seasoned PE teacher voiced his concerns that Kindergarteners had noticeably more difficulty focusing and settling down than prior classes he had instructed.
This corroborated my own conclusions after years of driving carpool for my daughters who are three years apart in age. When I started hauling my youngest and her teammates to sports practices in 2015, I was taken aback by the level of commotion and insatiable need for instant gratification as compared to my elder daughter and her peers in 2012. It didn’t matter which kids were in which seats when, the dynamic was always the same.
At first I was overrun by the group, but eventually learned how to sidestep the chaos with clear rules and snack policies; it required real assertion on my part. As a daughter of a neurologist, that is when I began wondering about how our children’s brains were being rewired. Were these new neural pathways forming as a result of interaction with these devices not only driving our children’s desire for device time, but also more universally, their behavior?
Just this past week, my now third grader, was tearful when I went to tuck her in. In her own words she said, “Mommy, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just can’t stop myself.” Certainly, learning self-control is part of growing up and the maturation process, but I’m fairly certain the challenge is exacerbated for my daughter’s generation, and I’m pretty sure we know the root cause.
So how does an expert in early childhood education address the problem? Lucinda’s answer is mindfulness, and she has integrated the practice into the curriculum of the school she heads starting in kindergarten, continuing with it through eighth grade.
On the homefront it’s trickier. Of course, we’d love to move through our days with the rhythmic transitions of a classroom, but our reality with kids is a lot messier, and we find ourselves caught in the crosshairs. We want our kids to develop 21st Century STEM skills and healthy digital habits, but while the learning process is hard for our kids, it’s also hard for us parents.
Usually, there is some triggering event, an overstepping of boundaries so egregious that we are jolted into action. We know the answer is a digital detox, and we brave the volcanic eruption when we deliver the news and weather the fallout that always comes with it. In a quiet moment, we look at our cherubic child wistfully, thinking, “It’s not her fault.”
Finally, days later, when our child wakes up wanting to talk about her latest beading project rather than how many coins she’s going to earn on her favorite e-game, our parenting instincts are affirmed, and we all taste the sweetness of genuine connection.
Often I reflect on what an experiment is being conducted in real-time at the expense of our kids. Revelations that these devices were intentionally designed to be addictive are infuriating, as are recent reports that Silicon Valley executives have long prohibited their own children from engaging with devices at too tender an age.
Silicon Valley is gambling with the high stakes of our future, and we can no longer tolerate these secretive cultures that leave the rest of us on the short side of asymmetric information. It makes me think of the haunting lyrics from Pink’s song, “What About Us?
Dear Silicon Valley: the Parents are coming.