Kids, Technology and Distraction



Affluence, gadgets, and technology—these have a profound effect on our kids today.

Our days were different—very different. We played hide and seek, catch and cook, dog and the bone, seven tiles, cricket, football. And we also climbed trees.

With the progress of technology—video game consoles, smartphones, tablets—games now have a very different meaning.

Our times at home were filled with hobbies like building aircraft models, collecting stamps, making cricket scrapbooks. They took hours to do, but there was a real sense of creativity and fulfillment. Now everything is just a click away. Even our homework and research took ages. I still remember going through a number of encyclopedias, atlases, and manuals, just to find one simple piece of information. Today it’s Google and Wikipedia—quick and accessible.

All this is great, but is everything positive?

Researchers say the lure of these technologies is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention. ‘Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,’ said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical Schooland executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston.

This poses a new challenge to focusing and learning.

Let me share a simple observation from my experience in church meetings.

I noticed that:  the kids who have little have a far greater attention span than the kids who have a lot.

Our meetings in Mumbai had city kids who were exposed to television, toys, and gadgets. It was a challenge to keep these kids engrossed in anything for more than twenty minutes. They’d colour for a while and soon want to switch to another activity.

Around the same time I had the privilege of visiting a small Nepali-speaking church in Shillong. These very cute looking kids between the ages of three and ten would sit on the floor and be engrossed for hours. I was shocked — I had never seen anything like this before. Their toy?—only a strip of hay. But they didn’t get restless.

Then I witnessed meetings at various churches in the UK. The kids here had much more—toys in their hands, books, etcetra, but they were still noisy and restless, wanting to do something different every few minutes.

What a contrast in these three settings.

I can see the great advantage of having the best of both worlds for our kids.

The kids who have more have a definite advantage of exposure, knowledge, and growth, while the less exposed kids enjoy more peace and discipline.

As we seek to provide the best and latest for our kids, we need to be aware that we can’t raise a generation that cannot focus. We must raise a generation that can gain all the knowledge and deliver in a disciplined way.

We have teenagers now, but when they were young, my wife and I tried to set some guideline—a balance of exposure and discipline. It is a challenge.

The ethos of your home may be be different. How do you view this topic? Do you see gadgets as a boon, a concern, or a useful horse that needs to be mastered?

Do share your thoughts.

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