distraction, delivered instantly and constantly

Posted: January 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

He was 5 years old, and the television screen was the center of his universe.  Our old 22-inch tv sat on a table that was shoulder-height to him; he would stand in front of it for hours on end, his small right hand pressed solemnly against the bottom corner of the screen in a reverse “L” shape, his mouth partly open and eyes glazed as shows and commercials tumbled around in front of him. 

There was no talking to him, when the tv was on.  We tried.  We called his name.  We yelled his name.  We used sharp tones.  He was too far gone, sunk too deep in the netherworld of tv land, and we were distant shades making meaningless sounds. 

I would come up behind him, grasp his chin firmly, and pull his head around to face mine.  There was still no reaching him.  His eyes would roll as if trying to see around the side of his head.  He would mutter half-sentences, trying to follow what I was saying, but the pull of the tv was just too much. 

So we developed the habit of turning the tv off, when we needed to have a coherent conversation with him.  None of this was HIS fault – note that we only turned the tv off long enough to exchange a few sentences.  Then it was turned promptly back on.  The boy was being raised in a house where television played nearly 24/7 in multiple rooms.  The first one to wake in the morning would turn it on, and it would run uninterrupted until the last one to go to bed and night switched it off…all but the tv in the master bedroom, which had a timer on it, so that we could fall asleep without the hardship of a dark and silent screen. 

I was very proud of my son, then, when he was in 7th grade and it was just him and me – we made a very mutual decision that tv was not good for us, that we both would waste our lives if we had it available to us.  This was not mom pushing son around – we talked it out and he was as adamant as I was.  We kicked tv out of our house. 

I thought about all that a couple of months ago when our pastor pointed this out:  We used to have to go and find distractions.  Now distractions come and find us.  Ain’t that the truth?  My son is not a little boy anymore – he is 24 and lives hours away from me and goes to Iowa State University.  Even today, he and his roommates still hold with the “no tv in our house” rule, to the extent that they wrote it into their rental contract.  Clearly he has found as much value in freeing his brain from the bondage of that particular kind of screen as I have found for mine. 

Still, my favorite times to be with my son?  In the car.  When we are driving between my house and his together, I let him drive.  While he has the steering wheel, there is no iPhone.  No iPad.  No Macbook.  There is no electronic intruder, shoving its way in and getting between us.  We drive and we talk, talk, talk.  We laugh.  We reminisce.  We philosophize.  We rant.  We mock our fellow drivers.  We solve all the world’s problems.  We advise.  We inform.  WE TALK. 

And I never have to sit patiently waiting through instant messages, texts, or any of the endless ways that the internet sucks us all in.  We get to have real live conversation.  Thus my love for drive time with my son.

I wonder how my daughter and son-in-law will navigate this landscape with my grandbaby.  How does one raise a child in a world of instant internet, absolutely everywhere, all the time?  How does one stay all the way in the moment and enjoy the childhood of their offspring, with the siren call of handheld computers reaching for them round the clock?  How does one get away for family time, when the phone is always on, always in the pocket, and there is never a “we’re not available” natural option? 

Makes me feel OLD, pondering it. 

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