On the screening power of screens

Last week, I met a boy from fourth grade when I was on my way to get my bike to ride home after work. He sat outside on a bench in the Norwegian Winter weather. I asked why we was sitting there alone, and he replied he was waiting for his dad to pick him up. I asked if he was ok, yes, he said, I have my mobile. He was playing some game on his telephone.

On my ride home, I felt sorry for him, sitting in the cold weather, waiting for his dad, and I remembered how, when I was in primary school, also had sometimes to wait to be picked me up. I went to a private school that was far away from our place, so there was no option to walk. I remember feeling a mixture between boredom and sometimes fright of never being picked up. As an adult, I know this is unreasonable, but as a kid, it did seem plausible. The only difference is that I grew up in the Caribbean, so at least, I wasn’t freezing…

…wait a minute, is it the only difference? What else do you think was quite different? I didn’t have an electric device to distract me from my emotions.

Lately, I am reflecting a lot about the impact all these screens must have in kids and adults, and I must confess that it worries me. I wonder how, the fact that we can be constantly entertained by these devices affects our emotional health.

It is well known that humans don’t like to experience what we see as negative emotions, and as parents we want to protect our children from feeling emotionally distressed, so we do whatever we can to change their moods. Access to an electric device often seems like a good tool. If a child is bored in the car, he can play games on the telephone. Or if she doesn’t like to sit still at a restaurant, she can watch videos on YouTube while the food is served. I must confess that I enjoy the peace and quiet TV brings on weekend mornings too. My kids watch TV while I can enjoy my coffee in the other room without being disturbed.

What I wonder about is if not the constant access to screens gradually puts a veil in people’s ability to see their own emotions. We hide our discomfort, our distress by keeping our minds busy, and we loose contact with ourselves. I also wonder if this loss of inner contact can result in loss of empathy and the ability to see other people’s emotions.

One could argue that electric devices are not alone on having the role of distractors, some read to flee from reality or to relax, others play an instrument, or go for a run, but I would argue that all these activities and other that we use to distract ourselves, require more from us than pure entertainment coming out from a screen.

I know that there are many different factors that influence the mental and emotional health of a person, and I guess that if a child that has free access to electric devices grows up in an otherwise open family where any emotion is welcomed and communication is positive, what I write about must probably won’t happen.

Maybe that is the key, maybe that is what concerns me more than the screens, the fact that well-meant adults want to ‘protect’ children from challenging emotions instead of allowing them to feel and help them develop tools to cope, to learn from them. I think one of the biggest gifts we can give our children is to know that they can overcome any difficult situation by learning to go through the distress and pain. To find strength inside them and to ask for support when they need it. Sometimes we experience pain and distress because of our own perceptions, sometimes it is caused by our interactions with others, sometimes it is the result of unforeseen and uncontrollable life-situations. Maybe we can also teach our children to see the difference between them and encourage them to see how they can deal with them.

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