I visited my doctor recently, and she shared with me her frustration about the new regulations requiring doctors to keep electronic records. “It adds at least a half hour to my day,” she complained, “and it’s just a giant report card to the powers that be. It doesn’t help me do a better job with my patients in any way.” As her patient, of course, I had to agree. The entire time I had been talking to her about my Very Important Symptoms, she’d been staring at the screen.
I shared with her that teachers have a similar complaint, that all of the testing required by the state is providing politicians with data, not helping teachers to do a better job. In fact, the net result of all this testing is that teachers feel they are doing a worse job. With all of the regulations and the teaching to the test, where is the time to form relationships with the students? And, if students don’t have a relationship with their teacher, what is their motivation to do well? What is their inspiration to try harder? Cold math served on a screen without an enthusiastic server who cares that you understand how juicy it can be underneath is just not very appetizing.
Constant focus on our computer or our phone is not only becoming more popular, it’s being institutionalized in our culture. But “outcome data” can’t see the effect of trust in a doctor/patient relationship. Testing shows only math scores, not inspiration to go to college so one can do great things. And the less we teach and demonstrate to our children how relationships work, the more they lose their connections to our communities, and the more lonely and unhappy they become, with no alternative but to form even stronger relationships with their computers.
How do we teach children how to be in relationship with real live people? First, we put away our own screens and don’t allow them to interrupt our time. Then, we insist that they do the same. Then, we play. Hide and seek with the neighborhood kids is, actually, more fun than Mario Cart…but video games are so highly addictive that kids will choose them over just about anything unless we actively unplug them. Board and card games with humans in the room teach interactive strategies of patience, sportsmanship, negotiation, integrity, and delayed gratification. Rough and tumble games teach how to calm down when you get excited, how much touch is fun and how much is painful. Baby games like peekaboo and rock me in a blanket teach that love means nurturance and kindness. These lessons can never come out of a screen. And they take time. And they’re worth every minute.
We don’t have to throw away our screens. Believe me, as a serious online solitaire addict, I’d be the last one to suggest that! We do need to find balance, though, for the sake of our children, our relationships with them, and our community as a whole.
BETH PROUDFOOT, LMFT, is a collaborative divorce communications coach and child specialist in San Jose, CA. Permission is granted to reproduce this article in it's entirety, with attribution.