Simpler times, when wonder was meeting a TV personality.
In speaking with parents for this month’s feature story on raising children with Down syndrome, one of the moms gave me some advice for new parents. Pamela Burnette said one thing she admired about her 6-year-old daughter, Lillie, was her ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. She suggested that other parents remember to stop and smell the roses too, so to speak. That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But in our frenetic world, where we live tied to our devices and jobs, our daytimers and social media connections, it’s easy to lose sight of the small wonders that surround us. But observing this again is certainly one gift that children give us.
If you’ve ever taken a preschooler out for a walk, then you know what I’m talking about. I remember when my son was 4; a five-minute stroll could easily stretch to 30 when he was leading the way.
Schedules went out the window. Walks were meant to be taken at a leisurely pace because there was simply too much to discover: Pebbles nestled in the cracks of the sidewalk, heart-shaped leaves waving from the gingko tree, sticks perfect for rattling along fence lines or tossing into the yard next door for the neighbor’s dog to find. Off in the distance, a siren would wail and suddenly our heads would swivel in unison, searching the top of the street in hopes of seeing a fire truck race by. And then it was back to our discovery trail, looking at manhole covers and flowers gardens, butterflies and birds.
Of course, this period of wonder begins to ebb as our children mature and discover the wider world. It’s part of our job to help keep that connection to the outdoors and discovery alive.
But what’s interesting to consider is this: Our children are entering a world where digital engagement will via for the tangible experiences they’ve had as a child. That’s not to say that these will cease to exist. But as kids enter the tween years, many will begin to engage friends through devices and on social media. And soon, what’s going on around them will take a back seat to the chirping, chiming, iWhatevers that become so entrancing.
I recently read a post from a mother who had overheard a group of teenagers talking about how they wished they had been raised in the olden days, before the Internet. When she asked them why, their answer surprised her. Because, they said, they felt a heavy burden associated with continually having to keep up with friends on social media.
There were times when their peers would get mad because a friend hadn’t “liked” a picture, or someone was left off of a tag, or someone else was tagged in a photo they didn’t want shared. And that’s not even considering those kids who use it to bully or ostracize others. The subtle nuances we gain from reading body language and hearing tone of voice disappear where we’re hunched behind a screen. Being engaged with social media makes it easier to portrait ourselves and events in more idealized ways than as they really are. More importantly, they create a filter that colors how we see and experience the world. In a recent story for Outside magazine, writer David Roberts wrote about unplugging from the web. Roberts, who was heavily engaged online through his job as a journalist with Grist, a website covering climate-change politics, said too much of his life took place online. “I was never completely where I was, never entirely doing what I was doing. I always had one eye on the virtual world. Every bit of conversation was a potential tweet, every sunset a potential Instagram.”
I have to wonder if our kids will face a similar dilemma. How can we appreciate and experience the wider world if our days are filled with watching our devices to make sure we don’t miss something in the virtual one? How do we help our kids find balance if we can't find that balance ourselves? Can we see the world through the eyes of a child again?