What Happened When I Introduced My Grandsons to the Brave New World of Screens?

This week, my daughter, her husband and my two grandsons were at an event in Princeton New Jersey. My daughter was working on cultivating a possible modeling career—not the sort of situation that an 11- or 8-year-old boy would appreciate.

You might imagine the environment as not being the most child-friendly.

diane sitting on steps with three kidsThough much time was spent sitting in a crowded auditorium while the adults practiced on stage, I felt fortunate to be with my grandsons.

To help them pass the time, I pulled out my cell phone and selected a free solitaire game for them to try. I thought they might enjoy playing that while we waited.

Neither one of them had ever heard of solitaire and seemed eager to learn. Unfortunately, within minutes, they became bored with the idea that you actually had to think about the playing cards on the screen.

Instead, they began just tapping on the screen to make something happen.

I stopped several times to tell them that it was not about having the cell phone play the game because they were tapping the screen, but about figuring out how to move the cards around using their finger to create the various sequences.

Nonetheless, they persisted in using the screen like they used the screens on their other devices, randomly tapping to produce exciting things to see. In that way, with no real thought involved, they could make the device put blow up objects, make figures run around, and in general, do nothing that I could see that was actually challenging them to think.

Screens and their hypnotic attraction

A friend recently shared a fascinating trailer of a documentary on how our society–and especially our young people—are being impacted by all the screen time in their lives. It is called Screenagers.

In under three minutes, viewers get a taste of what is probably happening in homes all over the country.

Today’s parents face many struggles because of the enormous peer pressure they are under in allowing their kids to have the latest device that offers instantaneous connections and instant gratification.

In 1931, British author Aldous Huxley wrote the classic novel Brave New World. It painted a bleak picture of the future values and beliefs in as a society in how it functioned while experiencing massive changes.

Little did Huxley know his predictions about life’s dramatic changes here in the 21st century were far ahead of his time…how rapid changes would be in the way we communicate with each other, how instant the access to almost limitless information.

Were we ready for the explosion of information and its effect?

The process is truly changing the way we connect, speak (or don’t speak) with each other, transmit values, judge, and criticize each other.

In general, we spend so much time looking at screens that we miss much of what’s going on in the real world.

A lot has been written indicating resulting changes in the brain from many hours being spent focusing on a screen:

  • The loss of actual conversations
  • Not taking the time to observe our surroundings
  • Ignoring the beauty of nature

The rapidly developing brains of our children are the most vulnerable to all this.

A picture of the board game, Go To The Head Of The ClassThere are no easy answers; however, it is essential for parents to be aware that those innocent looking devices may be greatly altering our children’s brains and futures in ways not yet understood.

By the way, back in the hotel room, I was able to convince my grandsons to engage in a 1978 board game I had brought along that I enjoyed playing when I was their age. The game is called Go to the Head of the Class. It involves throwing the dice, moving the figures around the board as you try to advance from kindergarten up through eighth grade.

It’s based on your ability to answer questions that you read from a book that came with the game. This book allowed us to ask questions at the junior, intermediate and advanced levels so the adults could join in to answer the more difficult questions.

We laughed a lot. We were also amazed at some of the questions and answers (Who knew that the Pacific Ocean was much deeper than the Atlantic Ocean?)

Overall, we spent more than an hour enjoying each other, laughing, being aware of each other’s facial expressions and body language, and all those things that are missed when heads are buried in screens.

I’d like to think that my grandsons would consider playing more board games—something I’ll think about for the holidays.

Meanwhile, these experiences made me think about how we need to open our eyes to the reality of today’s Brave New World. We need to accept responsibility for addressing the many issues presented by all this new technology.

While exciting and valuable in so many ways, it has the potential to rob our children of some of the healthy experiences that promote strong brain development, genuine relational encounters and opportunities to be creative and engaged in real life experiences.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Do you remember life before everyone walked around with their cell phones, constantly checking and responding to messages? How was that life different from your life today? What have been some of the gains and what are some of the losses you see yourself experiencing as a result of having a cell phone as a constant companion?
  2. What have you observed with your children and any devices they have? Have you felt peer pressure to allow them to have these devices and have regular access to them?
  3. What are some ways you can monitor and set limits with your children in order to prevent them from becoming so addicted to their screens that they are missing out on the joys of engaging in genuine human interactions, learning to have conversations, discussions, debates and even arguments that bring a richness no screen offers?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute, Lakeside