I had some really amazing conversations at FEECON last month. Lots and lots of really smart, interesting, independent-minded people there, and lots to talk about. One of my favorite conversations was with another homeschooling mom (there were lots of those there too), whose name I didn't even get. Of course, the topic of "screens" came up. For me - and for a lot of parents, homeschoolers or not - this is my biggest challenge with our neuro-typical son.
But this mom articulated it in a way that made me see the entire question differently. She said something to the effect of: "We're trying to figure out a balance between technology and 'real life', and to help our kids achieve this balance. And if we can get it right, it's one of the most important things we can do for the future of humanity."
I think she's right. Too much of the time, my own battle with technology, as a parent, consists of trying to find ways to limit it, to restict my son's "screentime." But there's so much more to it than that. This mom and I both agreed that we don't want to keep screens out of our kids' lives, we want them to be proficient in navigating the landscape that technology offers - a landscape that neither she nor I grew up with, and with which our kids are already far more proficient in many ways than we are.
But we also recognize that there are things we need as human beings - things like time spent in nature, face-to-face interactions with other humans, quiet time, to work with our hands, etc. - and that there are skills everyone needs to develop if they are going to be anything more than consumers and game players. Skills like: The ability to focus, to fend off distraction; the ability to think critically and evaluate the information one encounters; the ability to discern between substance and noise; and the nurturing of one's own moral compass.
Part of the problem with "screens" is down to the nature of the beast itself: From the physiological problems of exposure to blue light, to the way that communicating with others without seeing their faces changes both our communication and our ability to relate to others. But another part of the problem is just an augmentation of what we have always faced as humans: How to master our own minds. How to not just get sucked in to whatever attention-seeking piece of information happens to be floating around in front of us, but to focus on the things that we believe are important; How to not just adopt the viewpoints of the crowd around us, but really sit with something, think it through, and come to our own viewopoint; How to slice through all of the bullshit the world presents to us and distinguish between what is essential and worth spending time on, and what is not.
These are not new problems. The rate at which new information is being thrown at us may be new, but the underlying problem itself is not.
There's a lot more to say about this, but for now I just want to say that I now see this as THE big challenge for me as a homeschooling mom, and I'm going to be blogging more about it in the future. Partly just to help clarify my own thinking on the matter, because the God's honest truth here is that I have NO IDEA how to get this right. For myself, there have been a few times in my life when I really did have it right: In film school, when I was 100% focused on the work I was doing, all day long, and it was a beautiful thing; and again in the year and a half before I met my husband, when I was living on my own in Brooklyn, getting up and meditating every morning, going to ballet 3-4 times a week, teaching yoga and going to yoga classes, and also writing. It was so easy when I was on my own. But now, with a husband and two kids (I'm not complaining), one of whom needs lots of special care, and a day that is way too short for the list of things that Must Get Done... it is much more challenging.
So that's my big challenge: Restoring peace and ...I'm not even sure what to call it... "right living"? "Balance" just sounds like jargon. I'll try to think of something better. Restoring the "real life" part of my life, and helping my son to have it too. And I suspect that the answer to getting it lies less in imposing restrictions on screens, and more in offering up meaningful (if not as immediately enticing) alternatives.
One of my favorite yoga teachers ever had this to say on the matter: "Learn to use technology, without letting it use you." That's the power I want to give to my son.
Stay tuned as I work to figure this out.