A Childhood Without Play & Imagination

As television shows and professional competitions targeting kids mushroom, many wonder if children are being exposed to too much limelight too soon, scarring what should be a carefree childhood.

This quote appeared in a 19 June 2020 article Growing up too soon in media age. The vanishing childhood applies not only to children whose parents force them to participate in TV shows and professional competitions in pursuit of fame and fortune but practically an entire generation of children who are overscheduled and overprogrammed in pursuit of future success, which is too often defined primarily in financial terms.

Another culprit is an addiction to electronic devices and the Internet that begins at a very early age. It always saddens me to see young children glued to a smartphone or iPad playing a game, watching a video, or whatever. As with many things in life, the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Quality content and most things in moderation are good advice.

Mark Fiore for KQED

If you don’t think it can become an addiction much like alcohol or drugs, try taking away the device from a child who has been using it for a while and see how s/he reacts. In a 2017 US National Public Radio (NPR) interview, Dr. Anna Lembke, a Stanford University psychiatrist and assistant professor in addiction medicine, said she is seeing a classic addictive pattern of behavior in many of her clients who compulsively use the Internet.

Addiction begins with intermittent to recreational use, then progresses into daily use, and then progresses into consequential use, which in some cases will progress to life-threatening use.

That’s followed by a pattern of consequences like insomnia, dysfunctional relationships and absent days at work or school,” she says. “That’s the natural narrative arc of any addiction, and the same is true with an Internet addiction.

Social media like Facebook are designed to be addictive both physically and psychologically. According to a new study by Harvard University, self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance. (Read more about this in the linked article What Is Social Media Addiction?)

I see far too many children sitting around with their full attention directed to some online activity. Their parents allow them to engage in this self-destructive behavior because they think there’s some benefit or simply to use it as a babysitter. Or parents with a baby or toddler sitting in a cafe, both focused on their phones. Parents as negative role models. It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario; it’s matter of what and for how long.

Instead of wasting so much time online, they could be playing a game, reading a book (or having a book read to them, if they’re too young to read), or getting involved in some physical activity. I was lucky as a child in the pre-Internet era in that I had ample time to read books, write, think, play (unorganized) sports, and engage in other activities both indoors and outdoors. Yes, I watched TV but limits were placed on when and for how long.

Postscript: Here’s a great essay written by a young Canadian athlete who kicked the Instagram habit. WHY DITCHING INSTAGRAM EARNED ME THE PODIUM by Madison Fischer. Thanks to Cal Newport for the heads-up.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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