Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.
Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
--Finding Nemo (2003)
Too much information. That’s what a student and I realized was the bigger problem facing children and society in general these days. We have all had one of those conversations that leaves our mental space overly-occupied, those conversations that leave an imprint of an acronym in our minds: TMI.
Perhaps, as adults, we can filter out the useless from the truly informative, but at what cost to our time and energy? What should be of even more concern, however, is that often this information excess is dumped on children, who aren’t necessarily equipped to understand what they’re really reading, seeing or listening to.
Whether it is on social media, TV, newspapers, radio, or podcasts, we get “world news” instantly and it runs the gamut. Most of it is sensational. From an adorable 4 year old girl feeding 6 large male pitbulls dinner as if she was conducting a symphony orchestra to a terror attack in France. By the time we finish reading this sentence, we’ll be thinking about another half-dozen such events….that’s TMI. If adults find filtering all of this exhausting, imagine how overwhelmed kids are.
As this relates to adults, it distracts us from reality. All of this information is like unwanted pop-up ads for male enhancement or cheap, safe ways to lose weight fast. In this day and age we are expected to have a social media profile (guilty), maintain it (not guilty enough) and grow it (please like my FB account ;D). Sure it helps business, but what about the peripheral noise we get along with it?
I certainly know that there are times that I have to remind myself to shake off the extreme negative conduit of information that seems to permeate everything I read, see or listen to-it’s like ACME strength chewing gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe.
I can’t count how often I hear parents telling me the number of alerts they get about their neighborhood safety:
There’s a suspicious man driving a white...no, blue...nope, word on the street is it’s now a maroon paneled van. Sorry! Sorry! Folks, no need to be alarmed, that’s just the undercover child predator team keeping your children safe.
Parents are afraid of their children going anywhere alone. Even in the towns they themselves grew up in. In towns where they know everyone and know that their child is just a cellphone jingle or ‘proof-of-life selfie with a smoothie’ away.
This kind of information overload also deeply affects children. What is a child to do but ask for another video game, game console system, bigger TV, iPhone 6, 7, 7C and more, faster, better streaming videos and eleventy-billion hours of cartoon network? I need more bandwidth, MOM!?!?
Even if they wanted to go out and play, there’s no one else out there to play with. Even if they wanted to walk to school, very few children do that now. “Now let me put your socks and shoes on and then you can play on the deck. Don’t get any splinters!,” says a parent to his 14 year old son.
Everyone is so busy making sure they’re not doing the wrong thing for their child, that it’s hard to remember that the point of raising children is so they can learn to care for themselves. Otherwise, why would they ever leave the confines of their parents’ houses? But no one wants to risk being ‘that parent’. Ya know, the ones that didn’t bubble wrap their kid and then a meteorite fell on him.
Yet off they go into the wild Ivy League green pastures to sow their seeds of intelligence and rub elbows with the billionaire barons and baronesses of the future!! Let’s take a few phone calls from the future:
“Mom, how do I make my bed?”
“I have to wash my bed sheets??”
“Wait, how do you wash things?”
Of course, I saw some of this happen 23 years ago even before the social media craze. They were amusing problems then, but they were a rarity. Now, kids go off to college with the impression that they’ve got all the answers (they’ve got google/youtube/FB after all).
But when they get their first job, who wants to be the parent that calls the boss on behalf of their child?? Besides, in real life, sometimes there is no time to call for help.
With all of this information gathering, sorting and filtering, when do children have time to learn to fail on their own, discover on their own, lose on their own and pick themselves up and succeed on their own? Children who go off into the real world with unfiltered knowledge and limited hardships can be a recipe for disaster.
Talk about a misallocation of time and resources. All that time trying to protect them and then they go off not knowing how to protect themselves.
All of this polarizing information has lead people to believe that it is their neighborhood that is unsafe (untrue). What is true is that what children don’t learn early on about being responsible, self-sufficient and self-disciplined, will backfire when they go into the real world or even just college.
In 1992, when I was a freshman at Drew University, there were 1.9 Million Total Violent Crimes spread across the US. Twenty years later (2013 has not been calculated yet), that number has dropped to 1.2 million total violent crimes. Although I wasn’t a math major, that’s over a 30% drop! That’s extremely good news in my book.
Although the digital age may cause some paralysis by analysis and unfounded fears, undoubtedly it also has its benefits. The best thing adults can do for their children is be better role models by limiting the information they take in. Additionally, we should teach children how to filter the information that they take in. This could take some pressure off of parents, allowing kids to go explore their world before they inherit it.