He’s used to this drill. He’s a good boy; he wants to please. He’ll usually put the phone down and do the thing I suggest. And soon enough, like a wad of hair drawn inexorably toward a drain or an addict toward their substance or activity of choice, he’s there again, face to screen, body hunched and still, eyes tracking the micro-movements of the cooking video or the “fails” video or America’s Got Talent or People Are Amazing or the YouTube stars du jour.
He does just enough non-screen activity to shut me up and let me get involved in something else…and then he goes right on back. It’s where he wants to be.
He tries to connect with me around what he sees. “Watch this video Mom! It’s so funny/cool/amazing!” Sometimes I watch. Sometimes it’s funny/cool/amazing. Sometimes I just don’t get it. It’s sweet. This is his world and he wants me to play in it.
And yet, as I imagine is the case with many parents, I feel deep dismay about this gravitational pull toward the virtual. I worry when I leave him home that he’ll do nothing but stare at screens; he’ll forget to move, eat, go to the bathroom. I feel afraid of what’s happening to his brain when he does this: how can this possibly prepare him for actual life? How will he ever know how to be mindful, slow down, be bored, allow for non-screen-related creativity, commune with nature?
I get angry. Sometimes I threaten to take his device away. I say he shouldn’t have it if he doesn’t have the capability to control his use. I tell him he’s addicted.
Today I changed my mind about all of this.
Today, lying in a sweaty heap in savasana at the end of yoga class, I got it.
His inexorable focus on screens comes through an evolutionary imperative.
Let’s step back and look at the world as it is right now and how it is changing.
Adult humans, over the past hundred or so years, have managed to destroy a significant portion of the natural world. That’s not very much time at all in the context of our time on this planet. And the way things look, the downward slide of climate change, species extinction and the poisoning/imbalancing of the natural world is not slowing down nearly fast enough, much less being thrown in reverse.
Young people are becoming technophiles, diving into virtual worlds and cultivating the ability to create those worlds, because at some deep level – at the level of epigenetics, from a source they do not at all understand as anything besides a set of drives – they recognize that this might be all that’s left by the time their children’s children inhabit this place we all call home.
They might have to experience the purity of unspoiled wilderness virtually, because it might disappear. So they’re getting ready for that.
Even as I’ve neglected my own responsibility as an adult by contributing to all the mess that could rob him and his descendants of any sort of untrammeled mindful connection with the natural world, I’ve slapped from his hands and negatively judged his beautiful urge to explore what might be the only option me and my forefathers/mothers will leave him with once we depart into next realms.
I cried when I realized what I’d been doing – right there on the floor at Core Power Yoga.
I’m sorry, son.
Now I understand.