Tag Archives: communication

Children, Communication, and No TV

Big Brother's New HaircutBig Brother had his hair cut today. He chose the style he wanted, explained it to the hairdresser, and then proceeded to have a long conversation with her while she cut his hair. They talked about board games (his favourite is chess, hers is backgammon), what books they’re reading at the moment, the pros and cons of grocery shopping, and whether or not school holidays should go forever. Then he told her about his plan to grow up and invent Helper Robots, complete with what they will look like, how they will help people, and how that will change the world.

At the end of this half hour discussion, Big Brother went and sat down quietly on the seat to wait while Little Brother had his turn. And since Little Brother is a lot more shy than his brother, the hairdresser and I talked.

“It’s hard to believe he’s only six,” she said, gesturing to Big Brother. “I’m always happy when I see you come in here. He always has great manners, and I’ve never met another kid his age who talks so well, and who can actually have a conversation with me.”

I thanked her, chuffed by the compliment. Of course. And then she asked me what school he goes to, and what we’ve done to help him get to this point.

Normally I wouldn’t bring it up, but she was interested.

So I talked about being firm on the importance of manners from the time my children started talking. I talked about leading by example — talking to them the way I want them to talk to me. I talked about the importance of reading books and telling stories and playing board games and not dumbing down language when talking to the children. And then I talked about how the children don’t watch any TV (except for our once a week family movie night) or play computer games.

She was on board with everything until I mentioned TV. But she asked, so I explained.

I explained about the latest research that shows the effect TV has on young brains. I told her that I believe TV encourages children to be spectators rather than to fully engage in the world. I talked about how not watching TV gives my boys plenty of time to play outside, read books, and stage elaborate puppet shows with their toys. But, most of all, I said that I’m not anti-TV. It has its place. Nor do I have a problem with people who let their young children watch TV. Every child and every family is different. But this works for us, and I believe it’s one of the contributing factors in the way Master Six interacts with people and the world.

“Yes,” she said. “But aren’t you worried that when your kids get older and learn about TV and advertising and social media, they won’t be able to communicate with people in the real world?”

To which, I referred her back to her original statement.

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Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

Smart Phones: Novocaine for the Creative Mind

There’s a table out front of the cafe. It’s a square, low-set thing surrounded by comfy couches and it’s always in use. Today, it’s occupied by a group of friends drinking coffee. At least, I assume they’re friends. It’s hard to tell because they’ve all got their phones in their hands, too busy texting and tweeting and Instagramming their cheesecake to talk to each other.

Nearby, a young couple talk about their plans for the weekend. In the middle of their conversation, a phone beeps. The woman doesn’t hesitate. She whips her phone from her bag and swipes across the screen while her partner continues talking about restaurants and movies. “What?” she says when he pauses for breath. “I wasn’t listening. Sarah wanted to ask me about Fiji, so I told her I’d call her later.”

At another table, a couple my age eat their croissants in silence. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Before she’s even picked up her bag, he’s pulled his phone out and is tapping away at it, completely oblivious to the world around him.

Everywhere I look, people are on their phones. Not talking on them, just tap-tap-tapping away. Who knows what they’re doing. Maybe they’re texting directions to a friend. Maybe they’re shopping. Maybe they’re flinging righteously angry birds at towers. I don’t know. But what I do know is what they’re not doing. They’re not looking at the world around them. They’re not communicating with their friends. They’re not communicating with themselves.

It’s that last statement that bothers me the most.

For so many people, the idea of being forced to sit and do nothing — to be trapped with nothing but their own thoughts for company — is the worst kind of Hell imaginable. A wait of two minutes is unendurable without the benefit of a phone to relieve the instantaneous boredom. And the thought of being stuck without that mindless entertainment for half an hour? Or an hour? Or a whole day?

I’ve heard it said. “What did you expect me to do, just sit here and do nothing for five minutes?”

Yeah, I kinda did. Because that time when you sit and “do nothing”? That time is valuable. That time is important for your mental and emotional wellbeing. Without that kind of downtime, when do you listen to your own thoughts? When do you truly think and reflect and consolidate everything you’ve seen and done? When do you just be you?

I worry. I do. The modern world is designed for entertainment. From Angry Birds to LOL Cats, World of Warcraft to Bachelor Pad, there are endless opportunities for us to immerse ourselves in electronic Novocaine. And our Smart phones make that possible even when we’re on the go.

Do you know what happens when you spend all your time immersed in electronic media? When you rely on your TV, computer, iPod, and phone to entertain you every minute of free time?

Nor do I.

But do you know what happens when you don’t?

Creativity. Passion. Inspiration.

All those things that require an open, quiet mind.

Think about what you’re doing when you get your best, most crazy exciting ideas. Chances are, it’s either when you’re asleep (or near sleep), when you’re exercising, or when you’re in the shower. When was the last time you had a crazy, exciting, inspired idea playing Angry Birds?

I don’t have a smart phone. I don’t have games on my dumb phone. But even I sometimes fall into the trap. Even I sometimes find myself thinking I’ve got five minutes to wait. I’ll just check my email…

Do me a favour. Next time you’ve got to sit and wait for five minutes, just sit and wait. Leave your phone in your pocket or your purse or your bag or your car or (gasp!) back at your house. Sit. Wait. Look at the world around you. Let your thoughts wander and see where they end up.

You know, the way you used to back in the olden days .

 

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When “Being Nice” Backfires

This may come as a shock, but I wasn’t very good at making friends when I was a child.

I was awkward, gawky, self-conscious, and never “right”. I never had the right clothes or the right hair or the right words. I wasn’t cute or cool or hip. I had glasses (before they were geek-chic), I was chubby, and I was always the tallest in the class. Always. Also, I was painfully shy.

It didn’t help that we moved to a new school every year or two (due to my father’s job) and I had to go through the “making new friends” thing all over again.

When I was ten, we moved from the US back to Australia. There would be no more teasing and mocking my accent and asking me to repeat things over and over so people could laugh at me. I was hopeful.

Those hopes were quickly dashed. As it turns out, I did have an accent. I had an American accent. And I was immediately subject to the exact same teasing as I’d faced on the other side of the world.

But in amongst the bullying, there was a single bright light. I made friends. Multiple. Two of them. Their names were Natalija and Nicole. We hit it off when we all walked home in the same direction on my first day, and that was that.

Every morning, Natalija and Nicole would meet up and walk up to my place to pick me up for school. We’d walk the two blocks to the schoolyard, chatting and gossiping about the teachers and the kids in our class and who was going out with whom this week. Then we’d all sit under the trees until the bell rang for morning assembly. On the way home, we’d head out of class together and walk home, sometimes stopping at the corner store to pick up a bag of mixed lollies to share.

But about a month into this beautiful friendship, I made a decision that haunts me to this day.

Every day, Natalija and Nicole would come to my place before school. And every day, without fail, I’d be running late.

“I’ll be there in a minute!” I’d yell from the bathroom where I was half-dressed, with a toothbrush in my mouth and no idea where my shoes were hidden. “I’m coming!” I’d call from the kitchen where I was trying to stuff my lunch into my schoolbag, but only succeeding in dropping books, papers, and pieces of fruit all over the floor. “Nearly there!” I’d scream from my bedroom where I was crawling around under my bed trying to find the homework I’d done the night before.

Every day. Every. Day.

I was embarrassed. Every morning I was racked with guilt and mortification, sure that Natalija and Nicole secretly resented me and talked about me behind my back. Not that they ever said anything. They never commented or complained, they never even rolled their eyes when my parents told them again that I would be out in a minute.

But I felt terrible.

So I made a decision. Because their friendship was so important to me, because I loved them as much as a ten year old girl can possibly love the only two people outside her own family who don’t mock and ridicule her, I decided to sacrifice my own happiness on their behalf.

“I’m really sorry I’m late again,” I said, meeting them at the door with unbrushed hair and only one sock. “Just go on without me. I’m never ready when you get here, so you may as well not come by in the mornings. We can just meet up at school.”

So they left. And they didn’t come back.

Nothing was the same after that. They stopped walking past my house in the mornings — they walked to school a different way, meeting up with a couple of boys we all had crushes on. When we met up for morning assembly, I’d missed the gossip and felt like a third wheel. I didn’t know what to say to them so I stopped walking home with them in the afternoons. We drifted apart.

And I still regret it twenty-five years later.

Because when I said, “Don’t come by my house anymore,” what they heard was, “I don’t want to hang out with you anymore.”

But I learned something from the situation. I learned not to make personal sacrifices on behalf of someone else unless they’ve asked me to do so. Or, at the very least, not unless I’ve talked to them first. And I learned that what I say and what people hear aren’t always the same thing.

So please, learn from my lesson. Next time you’re tempted to make a personal sacrifice on someone else’s behalf, make sure what you’re offering what they want. Make sure you’re not accidentally saying: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore,” when what you really mean is: “I love you so much I don’t want to cause you any inconvenience.”

Postscript: I’ve been informed that this post is somewhat… depressing. So I just want to add that I posted this story because these types of miscommunications have been on my mind lately, and those lost friends have stuck with me.

As adults, we often make these sacrifices without even realising it. People think things like: “I won’t invite X to the party this time because she’s just had a baby”, or “I know Y is having money trouble, so I won’t ask if he wants to go to Hawaii with us”, or “I know Z is busy with her job so I won’t ask if she wants to volunteer at the school this year”. But the moment you make that decision on their behalf, you may send them the wrong message.

But how do you feel if you’re X, Y, or Z? If the reasons haven’t been explained to you, and you haven’t even been given an opportunity to decide for yourself? No matter how much you may justify the reasons you’ve not been invited, in your heart you feel hurt. No one wants to bet the cause of hurt feelings. Especially when you’re just trying to be nice.

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