When I was in my twenties and thought about the day I might have a child, my worry was always, “how will I keep the world away from the kid long enough for them to be wise enough to deal with it.”
I used to imagine that the day I brought a kid into the world would be the day the television and video game consoles would have to go.
I bring it up because I‘m routinely trying to explain to my 13 year old son the dangers of internet addiction. However, my concern has never been the obvious ‘dangers.’ Inevitably, the kid is going to get absorbed into social media, one day he’s going to discover internet porn, scary as it may be he’ll likely try to gain a sense of self-worth by the number of people who like a youtube video he posted, he’ll likely become dependent on this attention etc etc. All those things are concerning but they aren’t what really scare me.
What I worry about is my kids ability to focus.
I grew up in an interesting time in history. Video games were just getting addictive, the internet was developing into a useful tool, access to perpetual entertainment was more and more available. Knowing how much I didn’t listen when my parents wanted me to separate myself from the Nintendo and read a book, or go outside, I already know that lecturing my kid about making an effort to protect his own mind will fall on deaf ears, because mine were just as deaf.
Given this, I see my own hypocrisy when I give the lecture, but it doesn’t stop me from repeating it over and over. Point of fact, the kid is so sick of hearing it, I’m more likely to get him to do his chores by threatening to repeat it than by any punishment I might threaten him with.
Still, there are a lot of differences between my childhood and my son’s, and despite those differences, I know the consequences of easy entertainment. I was a terrible student, couldn’t apply myself to anything that required real focused effort, and that didn’t change until my early twenties.
Let’s start with the differences between then and now. Sure I had internet back in the day, I was there when AOL was hitting the scene. I went full nerd, begged my parents to buy my first 2400 baud modem, and launched myself into that world. The thing about it though, the internet wasn’t such a non-thinking place back then. I had a Macintosh IIsi, an antiquated piece of hardware running the wrong operating system for that time period, and it took a lot of focused effort and self education to get that machine to do anything I wanted.
I had to learn what the measure of hardware and software were, I had to manipulate my operating system to get it to squeak out every bit of juice to make the damn thing work. It required I understand the machine on a highly technical level to get the results I wanted. I was broke, and there wasn’t an easy place to get all this information. When I wanted to learn how to build my own website, I had to learn how to access FTP servers. I had to learn HTML by downloading the source code of other websites and studying it to see what the programmer had done. I had to pirate photoshop and teach myself how to use the damn thing. My parents certainly couldn’t of helped with any of this, it was all new (and frankly I don’t expect this to impress the person who taught themselves to use Unix or program C++ when they were in highschool).
My son, though as perpetually attached to his computer as I was, doesn’t have to learn any thing difficult to accomplish any of these things. I’ve explained to him a hundred times what the components of the machine do, but he never remembers. He immediately forgets, not for any lack of intelligence on his part, but because he doesn’t find the information useful, as is the way with most things humans commit to memory.
What I am getting at, obviously, is though I may have been addicted to electronics in my youth, there was an element of critical thinking and effort required to operate them. This generation doesn’t have that. How do I know? Well, every time the house network goes down, I tell the kid to go upstairs and reset the router and modem. I’ve told him the order in which to do these things, yet perpetually he needs me to come do it, and this has been going on since the kid was 9 years old. I got upset the other day when I’d explained it for the hundredth time only to realize he still had no idea what the function of any of the hardware was. He didn’t understand the basic mechanics of how the internet came into the house, was funneled through the router, and became available over the wireless network. No matter how many times I tell him what an Ethernet cable is versus a coaxial cable, it falls on deaf ears.
I am getting off on a long tangent here but the fear I am trying to get at stems from my own memory of the teenager brain. When I was in my twenties, I realized I was an idiot, disconnected the television set and stepped away from the computer, and made a conscious effort to reclaim my ability to focus on something for a few hours that wasn’t necessarily easy. Like reading a damn nonfiction book that might require me to open a dictionary. This eventually led to my going back to college.
The scariest thing for me as a parent is that the world might render my son incapable of such things. Not incapable in the literal sense, but that the day my son realizes he wants to do something that will truly require him to dig deep, focus, and learn no matter how many obstacles get in his way, the hurdle of effort he will face will seem insurmountable to him. It was difficult enough for me and to be honest, it took a lot of self reflection to see the need in myself back when I was twenty. I fear, that when his day comes, when he has an amazing idea he wants to bring into reality, what looked like climbing Everest to me will look like building a spaceship to Jupiter for him.
I believe that the focused mind can achieve anything (as long as deadlines aren’t involved). Unrelenting Focused Effort is the most powerful thing in the human arsenal. If the world keeps escalating the obliteration of this one mental ability from generation to generation, what hope do these kids have of fighting through all the distraction to do something real. Maybe my fears are miss placed, maybe the human spirit will always overcome no matter what. I just hope the kids of the future don’t wake up one day, find out there is something they want to do that no one has made a youtube tutorial explaining for them, and see it as impossible.