Rural Parenting: Fighting the electronic beast


As I write this column, I have already checked various social media accounts. I have noticed who has commented on my posts and what others have said. Family and friends like my photos of the kids, and I like theirs. I currently work off my phone, using it to type this column. I know the weather and if there is any chance of rain during this hot dry spell. I check the news and my email, remaining afloat of what is going on “World Cup” and “Nato/ Russian Summit” wise.

It is a major avenue of communication between loved ones and I. While there may not be enough time or energy for a phone call, a quick text, an emoji and a funny meme help us all stay in touch and know that the other cares. It makes me realize we are all a little “15,” as Bitmojis are just plain fun!

Electronics reminds me of my own mortality. I realize I have only a third of my steps in today, while the desired amount is 10 million. With a quick Google search, I can read the hands of the doomsday clock. Dueling political forces in the country and world, and perhaps more than a little “Covfefe,” have successfully moved the hands closer to nuclear annihilation. So much for the quick and constant access to information.

Yet While social media, the internet and the electronic medium are beneficial, they are also the complete bane to my existence.

Never before have I felt so connected to others, never before I have felt so apart. With constant news and the ability to see my family, friend, and neighbors latest anything, I have come to realize I never have to leave my house. I can dial, order up, entertainment, food, and dreams from the back forty and feel just as close to any metropolitan hub as a New Yorker. In the same regard, I can have all this in my hands and feel like Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway,” whose best friend is a volleyball. The comparison game, the false sense of being OK with life in an electronic bubble, can be as alienating as a “Wide Right,” “No Goal,” or an obscure Woody Allen movie.

However, the biggest problem I have or worry about with electronic use lies in my worries for the next generations. While these compounding, complex and conflicting feelings of satisfaction, bewilderment, connection, and disconnection, can be chewed on at mid-life and maturity, what about minds that are still developing and still learning how to make real connections, relationships, and friendships with people and places? A recent article in “Scientific American,” entitled “Most Adults Spend More Time on Their Digital Devices Than They Think,” by Knvul Sheikh (March 1, 2017), shared that parents spend on average nine hours and 22 minutes every day in front of different screens, including: smartphones, tablets, computers, and television. Of these, nearly eight hours were for personal use. As most parents try to model balance in screen time and in life, these hours are staggering! It is no surprise that similar studies find teens using just as much time a day on various forms of media, as cited in the report done by “Commonsense Media,” “Landmark Report: U.S. Teens Use an Average of Nine Hours of Media Per Day, Tweens Use Six Hours,” (Nov. 3, 2015). The study found differences in media preferences between boys and girls, with teen boys preferring playing video games and teen girls preferring social media use. The study stated while online video, social media, and mobile gaming are important, watching tv and listening to music continue to be the activities teens and tweens like the most.

A study shared in an article in “Psychology Today,” entitled “Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain,” by Victoria L. Dunckley, MD, sounds even more alarm bells as it explains how numerous studies point to how excessive screen time has been found to potentially damage the brain. To directly quote, “Taken together, [studies show] internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain changes involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control-research authors summarizing neuro-imaging findings in internet and gaming addiction (Lin &Zhou et al, 2012). Dunckley underlines these studies and reminds readers of children and teen’s still developing minds.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends unplugging 30 minutes before bedtime, as screen time acts as a stimulant to the brain, rather than being a calming force. Further ideas listed at the “Kaiser Permante Thriving Schools” website, in article entitled “ Screentime: Balancing Electronic Media Use Means the Whole Family Agrees on the Rules” (Sept. 1, 2015) discusses families actively discussing their use, limiting use, and setting electronic free zones such as meal times and bedrooms. While electronics, the internet, and social media can be incredibly fun and informative, it is important that balance is struck or at least aimed for in our lives. As parents, we need to lead the charge.

Nicole Kelly is a licensed social worker and stay-at-home mom. She lives in Genesee County.

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