Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Evil Square Box?

Ah yes the evil square box. You know what I'm talking about computers, TV's, handheld games. The catch all term that we use to refer to all types of screen time. Apparently it is the root of childhood obesity, ADHD, anti-social behaviour and the list goes on. Every ill that has befallen our children can be traced back to some sort of manifestation of the square box. As a parent I have followed the popluar wisdom and really limited all forms of square box time in our house and I felt really proud of the job I was doing until today.

Today, if you were in my house, you would have heard this:

-stop making that collage with your brother
-please enough with the drawing already times up
-why are you writing again -- I thought I asked you to stop
-are you playing with your roller-coaster set? You are grounded.
-quit reading about the Taj Mahal and the wonders of the world

It sounds absurd doesn't it? But what if I told you the colouring was on tuxpaint, the collage was a slideshow on OneTrueMedia, the writing was a gmail message, roller-coasters are constructed with Ruff Ruffman and the Taj Mahal research was on the web. And what I really said was get off the computer. Now does it seem as absurd?

As I walked to set the "computer time" timer after my daughter announced she wanted to research the wonders of the world, I had to ask myself the question -- If she had brought home a book from the library about the Wonders of the World would I be limiting her time? The questions then keep coming.. if she were writing in journal would I stop her? would I ask my son to stop colouring unless it was supper? would I interrupt the two of them peacefully cutting up magazines for a collage if I didn't have to? Why does the fact they are engaging in these activities on a square box matter?

Sometimes I wonder why this shift in thinking is so hard. Then I pick up my daughters school newsletter and read (under a huge headline of READ! READ! READ!) this: "And yet everything conspires against children learning to love books(ie read). Ubiquitous electronic devices, whether desk-bound or small enough to fit in their pockets, occupy an alarming proportion of children's days" With messages like that floating around -- is it any wonder that, as parents, we sometimes fear and loathe the evil Square Box.

But what if computers had come before books? What if the quote above read "And yet everything conspires against children learning to love computers. Ubiquitous printed matter, whether hard-cover or a paperback small enough to fit in their pockets, occupy an alarming proportion of children's days" Would we then be blaming the solitary, sedentary nature of reading books for the rising obesity problem and anti-social tendencies of children?

I know that I won't give my children free access to the computer in my home any more than I would let them decide what they should eat every day. It is my job to ensure that they have a healthy balance in their lives. However, I do hope that I will do a better job in the future of evaluating the worth of the activity irregardless of the medium that delivers it. I would like to believe that the medium isn't always the message -- that sometimes it's just the medium. Just as an apple isn't candy just because it is sweet; activities don't lose worth because they are contained on a computer. Maybe the evil square boxes aren't that evil after all.


Lorna Costantini said...

I love your approach. You have the amazing ability to make it simple and yet profound.

Ellyn Schaffner said...

On balancing...

Very well stated Penny - yes it is our responsibility to facilitate and demonstrate balance in our child's life. And in my house I was shocked when that meant that I actually had to ask my daughter to give up some daily hours of reading during Lent, and add physical activity... Thanks.