I realize that my subject line only makes just a bit of sense, unless you have been living under a rock for the past 7 months. Whether you live with teens, pre-teens, other adults or on your own, social media and online gaming are keeping us in touch, busy and sometimes just on the brink of sanity this year.
All of these tools can never replace face-to-face, in person interactions. A hug from a loved one or hanging out on the couch with a good friend are special, uplifting and necessary in our lives.. Human beings, I believe, are by our very nature sociable and in need of other people (or pets, but that’s for another day!).
But that’s just not possible right now. Not only is it not a good idea to hug your grandmother or host friends for dinner at home, in many places it’s just outright banned. So we find alternatives. We find other ways to fill the long and often lonely days, to break the boredom and seek out different ways to connect.
Enter the smartphone, tablet, computer or gaming system. How do I describe how I feel about the many devices, as I refer to them, that litter my home? Do I love them and feel grateful for them? Yes. Do I hate them and sometimes consider throwing them all in the garbage dump? Definitely yes!
It’s a daily battle in my head, as I constantly check my email, social media accounts and text and WhatsApp messages. And what would I do without my online Scrabble games? I am lucky that I work for a wonderful employer, ADP, who has been open and transparent and who sent us all home to work on March 16th. I’ve been busy (okay, VERY busy!), and I often sit in front of my computer for 12 or 14 hours a day. And what do I do in between, before and after? I’m on my phone, checking in with friends and family. I can’t escape it, so how could I expect my kids to?
Screen time. When I was a kid, that phrase was only used to quantify how much time a child sat in front of the TV. In 2020, TV is old news. Now it’s the smartphone, tablet or computer. How much is too much, and without it, am I cutting my kids off from the only way they can feel connected to their friends? My 10-year-old daughter is a whiz with the various tools at her fingertips (she is also the child, who at age 2 taught her grandmother how to play Angry Birds on the iPad). Julia seems to be at the centre of more social circles than ever before, jumping between multiple texts, WhatsApp conversations, video chats and online interactive games. Her phone is dinging all day and every few minutes I hear the voice of a different friend of hers emanating from her bedroom.
My son plays online games with his cousins and also camp friends who live around the world. I often hear him laughing hysterically at 2:00 am, as they discuss the latest sports news. Even my four-year-old often has her head down with a device, watching some painful kiddie video on YouTube or preschooler game. Her little fingers give her the ability to fly through screens at a rapid pace.
Does this make me a terrible parent? Am I destroying my kids’ brains by letting them spend so much of their day online? What damage have I done to myself? I spend hours in front of a computer screen, day after day, and in between I’m on my phone. I hear clicking and pings all the time, whether they are real or not. I followed the news before but now admit I’m definitely a news junkie. Is this healthy? Terrible? Devastating?
I think it’s all of it. The world as we knew it before March 2020 doesn’t exist right now. Devices, like it or not, keep us all connected and together. I don’t know what I’d do without my WhatsApp group from work, people who have truly become close friends in the last seven months – and yet I haven’t seen them at all. How else could we have celebrated Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah in April without webcams, computers and the Internet? I had never felt closer to family than I did on that day, as we all appeared side by side on our screens.
My kids’ lifeline is their personal mobile device. The pinging, middle of the night laughter and online parties are helping them – and me – get through this. I need to stop thinking about screen time and see it more as social time. We have found new ways to stay close to the ones we love and build bonds with old and new friends. Thank goodness for social media, video chats and online gaming. Like it or not, they are here to stay.