“How could we allow the most privileged generation in history—in terms of spendable income, opportunity for education and travel, and access to information—to quietly amuse itself to death?”
This is the question that Dr. Jeff Myers, evangelical leader and founder of the organization Passing the Baton, poses in an article entitled “Entertainment-Soaked Culture Damages Kids’ Brains.” Myers (no relation of author) raises this concern after citing a survey that found the average Christian young man spends 33.25 per week in “screen-time” and young ladies spend 27 hours per week (a survey that is now over ten years old). He then points to some studies that look at the effects of video games and similar activities on the brain’s functions.
One study found that “playing video games lights up the pleasure center of the brain while simultaneously shutting off blood flow to the executive center of the brain” (see Leonard
Sax’s Boys Adrift for a more detailed discussion of these findings). “In effect,” writes Myers, “these games offer boys the sense that they have accomplished something without actually having done so.”
I think this perspective affirms and reinforces the historical values and practices of our Anabaptist families. For the most part, our families have shared the perspective that it is much better for children to do something active than to sit passively in front of a screen. We believe that children need to get outside and play, to be creative and interactive, to use their imaginations. We believe that children need to learn responsibility and diligence and to work with their hands as well as their minds.
I wonder, though, if we may be becoming numb to the extent that screens are insidiously bringing their entertainments into the lives of our children and young people. It would be a great and terrible irony, if at the precise moment that many in the fields of science and healthcare are awakening to the damaging effects of “screen-mind,” we as a sub-culture are falling asleep to the fact. If we are going to raise a generation who are vibrant, clear-thinking, serious-minded, and equipped for a life of service, I believe that we need to offer vigilant and vigorous direction on the use of screens in our schools, and, to the extent that it is appropriate, encourage the same in our students’ homes. They are powerful tools to accomplish many valuable tasks; they are not sources of entertainment.
Myers offers a couple of simple antidotes for visual media’s allure. First, unplug the screens and do real things. Ride your bike, mow the grass, split the wood, write a letter, go fishing, sew a doll, plant a garden, read a book, build a tepee. Secondly, engage children and youth in conversation. “Language lights up the brain,” says Myers, “Language seems to be the bridge that reconnects the broken-down relationship between the executive and pleasure centers of the brain…We’re talking two-way, engaging, in-person conversations.” And that puts the ball squarely in the parents’ court, he notes, to communicate with their children in a way that “engages them in communicating with you.”
And so my question is: What are we as educators supposed to do about this? How do we raise awareness about this issue for our patron families in an appropriate and helpful way? I’d love to hear your ideas!
CONTRIBUTOR: Kendall Myers