Recently, I was driving home from my son’s robotics class. As usual, we were enjoying the sunshine on an open country road. Just ahead of us, traffic slowed down for a moment as a school bus ground to a stop. Its doors opened, and a girl -12 or 13- stepped out. She reminded me of my daughter – back-pack, pony-tail, tennis shoes. But what intrigued me most as I looked her direction was not her, so much as what lay just past the house she was walking toward.
Just to the right of her gravel driveway was a tree-house. A well-designed tree-house, yet one beginning to show its age. Boards warping. Wood dulling. Paint peeling. Beneath the trees were a handful of stray pieces of ply-wood that had fallen and were lying, forgotten. And as traffic picked up again, I was left to contemplate:
Once upon a time, that tree-house was new and the girl was small and excited. And now she is grown, and the tree-house is worn. And the years are over. Fast. So fast.
Put the Phone Down
NPR recently posted an article on plugged-in parents. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician specializing in child development, has become concerned about the digital generation’s parenting, and set aside a Summer to observe families. She and two other researchers studied 55 sets of parents in restaurant settings, finding that 44 sets of parents pulled out their phones immediately upon being seated.
“They looked at it, scrolled on it and typed for most of the meal, only putting it down intermittently.” Not surprisingly, Radesky also noted that of those 44 sets of plugged-in parents, behavior in their children was more disruptive and chaotic than in the families whose parents were not plugged in.
Plug into Your Kids
What will be the long-term effects on a generation raised by constantly distracted parents?
There is no way to know, but here are 2 primary concerns I have:
1. Children will not feel validated and listened to, while little. This will create ambivalence in their minds as to parental authority in the older years. After all, if Mom has always texted her friends before responding to your need, and if Dad has always said: Hang on a sec, while he scrolled his Twitter feed, why would a response of parental validation suddenly develop in a child?
Children require enormous amounts of encouragement and affirmation. And there is room for little beyond a response of irritability in a parent who is endlessly plugged in.
2. Children will find answers independently. There is no room for conversation in a room with a Mom and her phone. Uh-huh, is the response. Just a minute, the constant reply. But kids will not wait til your thumbs stop texting, to grow and develop. Their minds are always on and ready to engage. They are naturally inquisitive and insatiably curious, eager always to piece together information about the world they live in.
Parents are needed to read, to think, to respond, to ask questions back. Children will demand answers, and if their parents come up empty, they will find answers somewhere. Among friends, Internet, their own phones.
But this begs the question: Do we really want them looking?
Back to the Treehouse
What does any of this have to do with a treehouse? Well, once upon a time, the middle-school girl stepping off the bus, was little. But now she is not.
As Sally Clarkson reminds, the second law of thermo-dynamics states that all things are plodding along, yet wearing out as they go. Your kids’ child-hoods are not forever. And they are wearing out, as they get closer to adult-hood.
There are some things we should live to regret: our sin, our harsh anger, our poor choices and our arrogant words. But there are other things we should fight to protect from regret.
And our kids’ childhoods, full of life, love and listening, are one of them.