Uffda: Interjection signifying exhaustion, weariness, resignation, or overwhelm, especially used by those of Norwegian descent; see 'oofda'. (The Norwegian-American slang equivalent of the Yiddish term oy.) Black: Me
A couple of events happened to me this month that made me think twice about parenting in the age of technology:
First, I have noticed that three out of four of my children are entranced with their electronic devices. My son has found himself needing to check the status of his eggs and/or fight other creatures on a dragon game that he is playing. He is absolutely hooked. As soon as he gets home from school, he disappears. To where? Some corner of the house to be left alone until, hours later, he realizes that he has not eaten anything.
Daughter #1 is kicked back in her room watching stupid (so, so stupid) Youtube videos that challenge viewers not to laugh (I laugh) on her Ipod (Yes, an Ipod. She is the only one in her class that does not have a cell phone – and believe me, she is pissed; but that is for a different post). Meanwhile, Daughter #2 has watched every kid Netflix movie and/or show that ever created and has now started to re-watch them.
They are totally different people when those devices are in their hands. Heaven forbid their dear, loving parents ask them to do any chores. Those requests are met with tears, eyerolls, and under-breath mumbles as they begrudgingly fulfill their duties that are their only requirement to be granted sustenance, safety, and sustainability by us. I understand that there are stages of child development, but this seems like something more.
So, as a trained researcher, I take to the computer to do discover a fix. I know, How ironic — I use technology to fix the technology problem in my home. Save it. Anyway, I came across a multitude of research about both the positives and negatives of technology on children’s brains.1
So, what are you going to do about it, you ask?
I am going to take all of their devices away, at least for now. I’ll take charge of my household. I’ll show them.
Genius! On its face…
What ensues is both interesting and sad. My kids, as multi-talented as they come, had no idea what to do with themselves. Seriously! They either walked around the house like lost puppies trying to find their owner; or, they stared at us parents with those big, sad eyes that screamed, “Help us!” I did not know whether to feel sorry for them or send them to bed. Each suggestion we gave was met with wailing and the gnashing of teeth.
Luckily, by the end of the night, the drama subsided and they found marker and paper and started drawing, not well by any means, but drawing nonetheless.
The second event involved me stopping by the local hobby shop to look for a possible Christmas present for my son (Afro #3). When I walked in the store, I immediately knew that I was going to blow a lot of money. I was totally overtaken by nostalgia – remote control cars, boats, planes, slot cars, and model sets – all things that I grew up with. Things that defined my childhood!
THE THINGS THAT MADE ME THE NERD THAT I AM TODAY!
But, as I was reliving my childhood and contemplating my future credit card bill, I notice something – there were not many people in the store. In fact, for the thirty-or-so minutes that I was in the store, I had notice 3 other people (not counting me and the two employees) in the entire store. One of them, I am sure, walked in by mistake but pretended to look interested out of pity.
“Slow day?” I asked.
“This is how it has been since the ‘beep, boop, beep, craze.” (gyrating his thumbs in a Gameboy motion).
“Wow, that is sad. There is really a lot of cool stuff in here.”
“Yeah, these things are just not as popular as they used to be.”
It then hit me… My children have no hobbies for themselves. They don’t have that one thing that they depend on to keep them busy when they have nothing else to do and are bored.
If you are reading this article, you are most likely old enough to remember a time when your parents told you to “Go away and find something to do.” Full disclosure, I have not researched this thoroughly, but It seems as though our parents were giving us the gift of finding our inner nerd when they would tell us to “get out of their hair.”
Don’t act like I was the only one!
When my parents were too busy to entertain me, I built Legos, played with my action figures, delved into my collection of comic books, or played with my remote control/slot cars. All things that are not as popular now as they once were. But why? Where did all of the nerds go?
Did technology kill imagination? I mean… I don’t think so, but I do think that technology cannot survive without discipline. It seems that it is way more than a coincidence that my kids were hooked on technology and once that was taken from them, they were in a state of confusion.
Here is the conundrum:
Hobbies help kids learn by doing, test the limits of their success, and provide an remedy for boredom.
Electronic devices help kids research, provide instant answers to questions/issues kids may have while also combating boredom.
“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling
A couple of weeks ago, you tried out for an AAU elite travel team. Now, you already how much I absolutely detest AAU teams – although, I’ll admit, it has allowed me to see some awesome locations, meet wonderful people, and play against some of the most talented basketball players to ever walk on a court. The problem is, I have also witnessed the dark side of elite basketball — but, I won’t get into that now; that is for another time.
Honestly, Honey, as we wait for this letter to come in the mail, I keep hoping we receive bad news.
I honestly hope you don’t make the team.
Bear with me…
Listen, I may be a little biased, but whenever you walk into the gym, you are the best player there. You have the size, you have the speed, you can shoot, you can use your left hand, and you have the drive. But, more than anything, you have fun, you are social, you are humble, and you are smart; and that is what I love (and will continue to love) most about your game. I am proud of you every time you step out on the court because I know your competitiveness will compel you to make the most of your abilities as well as make your teammates better. Yes, I will admit, as your coach, when your team falls short — or when you have a terrible game, I am upset. I am upset until I look over at you, joking and laughing with your teammates as if you guys don’t have a care in the world. Basketball is just a game to you; you know you are good at it, but you are there to have fun and socialize.
That being said…
If you are selected for an elite AAU team, there is a whole new dynamic to consider…
Man, o’ man. Little girl, you will be expected to win. Not only will you be expected to show up to a tournament and produce, but, when you do not produce, you will sit the bench until you are able to produce (which could be a while dependent on if your replacement has a hot hand). You will need to practice your craft on your own time — no excuses! It does not matter if you are the best player on any given day; you need to be the best player on that specific day. The expectation is for you to show up to a tournament, hours away from your home, and claw and scratch your way to a championship. Period.
Look, I am not here to bash AAU or crush your dream, but, my job as your father is to protect you. That job requires me to deem what is, and is not, appropriate for you given your age and maturity level, whether that be cell phones, music, movies, boys, and yes, basketball. And frankly, right now, I don’t think you are ready.
Is there a side of me that wants you to make it? Yes! But I have come to realize that it is the part of me that is selfish, self-serving, and competitive. Of course I want to show everybody that I produce the best of the best. But that is not right.
So, here’s to you staying young, having fun, and not making the team.
For the record:
Weeks later, I found out that you, in fact, did not make it…
“Unfortunately, She was not selected for our 6th grade team. We had so many girls at that level trying out this year and looked at each one very carefully before making our decision.
We highly encourage your daughter to try out again next October.
All teachers become educators to make a difference in the lives of their students. Tomorrow I will watch a student who became a friend, a friend who became a brother get married to the girl of his dreams. And, he chose me to be in his wedding. There are many awards that I could win for teaching. But, nothing will compare to the honor that I will have to share this experience with Cody and Kate. He often writes about how I was a mentor to him. What he does not understand is how much of an influence he has been on me and my career.
When I look back on my career I will remember the conversations that we had in the weight room about life, about love, and about sacrifice. I will remember the pimple face twerp who listened to my every word as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. And I will remember the day that he came to my home and told me that he had fallen in love and how this is definitely the one.
I hope I have made some type of influence on all of my students throughout my career. I may not have been your best, or favorite, teacher, but I hope that on some level we connected and that you learned something from me whether that was from the content or just from life.