Yesterday, I read this piece by Al Mohler, which discusses the media saturation of young people. I really encourage you to read it. Think of the media our kids take in daily: television at home, internet at home, internet via cell phone, music via cell phone, cell phone use, text messaging. At one moment a kid can use multiples of these devices simultaneously while he's trying to talk to you. Some people have the mistaken notion that this kind of "multi-tasking" makes them smarter. It doesn't. What it does do is erode their concentration abilities.
After summarizing a study which was done on the subject Mohler makes this comment:
There is no turning back from the digital revolution. It is not realistic for most families to declare a principled disconnection from electronic media and the digital world. Nevertheless, this important report serves as an undeniable warning that America's young people are literally drowning in an ocean of media consumption. There is every reason for parents to be concerned about dangers ranging from the content of this media, to the way digital saturation changes the wiring of the brain, to the loss of literacy and the reading of books, to the fact that many teenagers are far more connected to their friends through social media than to their own families in their own homes. Teenagers are forfeiting sleep and other important investments of time because they experience panic when they are digitally disengaged for even a few moments.
I read this article after writing a note for my son because he missed one of his classes on Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoon, my son came home during his spare period. We're in walking distance from the school, and his spare period was right after lunch, so he came home to eat something. He asked me when he arrived if he could skip the last period, which is a class called "Challenge and Change," which is basically a sociology course. He took it because he needed another 12th grade course that is meant for students entering university or college. It sounds like I'd really not enjoy that class. It is taught by a fifty-something feminist man-hater who is built like a small tank. Rumours abound about her. One of them claims that her husband shot her in the back once because he mistook her for a moose. She's never been married, so the veracity of that one is obviously shaky. There is also the story that she once punched a bear in the face; regarding that one, my son says, "I believe she could do it." More than one student who has been in her class has talked about her tendency to engage students in debate only to shut the student down when he or she has a point. She loves to be right, and when someone else catches her in the wrong, she uses her authority as the teacher to end things by threatening to send a kid to the office. I have heard more stories about this woman over the past few months than I care to remember. My son finds her infinitely annoying.
Anyway, the reason he wanted to stay home was because they were going to be watching "Oprah" in the class. The show was about the lives of thirtysomething women all over the world. Now, doesn't that sound like something every 17 year old boy is fascinated with? The semester is almost over, he's getting an A in that class, so I didn't really mind. He spent the afternoon doing something valuable: he prepared for a speech in his law class which was very important for his grade. He's been competing in a tournament of sorts with other students to see who can prepare the best sentencing arguments. He won yesterday, so I think the time was better spent.
I don't like it when teachers show television programs in class. I really don't. And it is happening more and more. I can see how a well-produced documentary can assist in a topic. My younger son has watched a few documentaries about World War II in his history class, and I can see how that is a useful thing. However, television programs which are produced for entertainment hardly seem a valuable way to teach a topic. I don't care what anyone says: Oprah is entertainment. It's not my kind of entertainment, but that is what it ultimately provides. Given the media saturation Mohler discusses in his article, why on earth are we feeding the kids more? And it isn't just Christian blog circles that are aware of the media saturation. Everyone knows that kids spend too much time with media.
I, of course, am in the minority in this dissent. What else is new? I mentioned it to another parent who explained that kids can learn a lot from pop culture. Whatever. Mohler's comments at the end of the article with regard to the loss of literacy are very important, I think. We are bringing up a generation of people who are losing their facility with language. They are becoming more and more isolated. It is possible for a child to feel like he's connecting with other people by simply partaking of multiple media sources at once. He could do this and spend an entire weekend without speaking to another soul.
Technology can be used in good ways. But humans are notoriously prone to extremes, and especially young people. We need to be teaching our kids to balance their time. And we teach them that by seeking balance ourselves. If teachers care about literacy, they will think seriously about their use of media. And they will set the example of balance themselves.