Will Someone Unplug Me Please!

I recently attended a dance recital. I must admit, I was mesmerized. But, not by the dances. A young toddler behind me played quietly with an empty water bottle and zipped it through the air with a slightly audible SWOOSH. When the bottle fell and rolled to my feet – I couldn’€™t help but join in his game. I too, simulated the flying motion through a couple loop de loops and back onto the ‘rocket’€™s’€ landing pad. He smiled and continued playing. The parents apologized and I assured them that I was not the least bit upset. In fact, I was ecstatic!

iStock_000013817071XSmallWould you agree that humans in North America carry out their days in similar fashion to a pet hamster on a wheel? Round and round we go, spinning at high speeds until at some point we fall off the wheel or collapse in utter exhaustion.

With all due respect, I worry that without necessarily meaning to, we are shaping our children to be the next generation of hamsters! Many young people are so accustomed to being plugged in, that at times of quiet, boredom or inactivity almost kill them!

Think about it. Is your child able to sit through a church service, recital or a car ride without an ipod, cell phone, game cube or movie to keep them busy? Can your child wait at a restaurant or in a lineup without one of these tools? Does your child insist on playing the DVD player in the van while you drive across town? Be honest.

If the answer is no, I would gently ask you to consider the ‘€œbrain training’€ that is happening at a neurological level. Every experience creates electrical impulses in a human brain. Repeated activities build “pathways” in the brain which in turn, create habits in behaviour AND at habits in the structure of the brain! When we make a habit out of plugging our kids in rather than allowing them to engage in what is going on around them, we are actually paving the brain’s highways of neurons to need constsnt stimulation! In effect, we are training them to constnat entertainment.

I know, I know, they get BORED. Bored kids drive us nuts! BUT, keep in mind that boredbored children who do not have entertainment directors do something magical! They use their imagination; they may make a water bottle a rocket or a wood stick a sword. They play outside and use unstructured time as a time to make believe, to socialize (face to face) or to practice a skill that they enjoy. Unplugged kids’ may create a story in their minds. Heck, they may even ENGAGE in what is going on around them: hear the music, think about what a pastor is saying, smell the rose or connect something they know with something they experience!

Perhaps you remember counting cars or playing I Spy as you sat for hours on a long car ride? Any memory of building towers out of the creamers on a restaurant table? I distinctly remember making up a story in my mind as I sat in the graduation hall for my sister’€™s grade 12 convocation. Imagination can be squashed in a noisy, environment filled with bells and whistles….sometimes it needs space to take root and grow.

Do kids really NEED electronic equipment, cellular data and digital toys to keep their minds racing from one thought to the next?

It takes time to train a hamster to run circles on a wheel. Perhaps our time as parents and educators would be best served by allowing our kids to start young and teach them that it’€™s okay to be bored. It’€™s okay for parents to expect their child to use their minds to imagine, create and explore. It’s okay to refrain from creating a  busy schedule of structured activities. It€™’s okay to look out the window of the car, even if your mind is visiting an imaginary land. It’€™s okay to make a water bottle into a vehicle that NASA would be proud of!

Please, think about the highways you are paving in the pathways of the brain the next time your child wants his game cube because he is not BORED.

People who neglect their powers of imagination become both passive and restless. They rely on something else to entertain them, something else to occupy their minds. They are unable to do it themselves.

G. K. Chesterton


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