Plugged In

In many ways, this week’s conversation is an easy segue from last week’s. Something has stormed its way into your kids’ world that I can guarantee wasn’t a part of the world of your childhood: Media, Media, Media. Not to say that you didn’t have a favorite TV show, or a favorite band or that the movie theater wasn’t your hangout – but it’s irrefutable that access to and consumption of media is at an all-time high. This isn’t a newsflash, and I’m certainly not the first person to address the topic, but it’s real and it’s important.

Over the past few weeks a common theme working its way through each of our conversations has been the idea of connection; that we, and our children in this particular context, are built to seek out connection with those around them. Agree with it or not, the massive amount of media that our children absorb and participate in daily has lots to do with connection. In the mindset of full disclosure, its probably good to note that I personally tend to lean quite heavily against media saturation, particularly social media, but this conversation is not meant to be a case (of which there are many) for or against the media itself, it is simply a means of beginning to unpack and understand it’s popularity.

Allow me create a scene for you...

You’re sitting around your home one evening when you approach your teenage child and suggest, “We don’t have anything else going on tonight, why don’t we sit at the dining room table together and play some Scrabble?” I’m sure we can all imagine several likely responses that all border on the notion of, “No.” Imagine your consternation when you then hear that your darling child has long been participating in the game Words with Friends (which if you haven’t heard, is essentially digital, scrabble played via smart-phones between online opponents). Again, I’m sure that you can imagine several likely responses all bordering on the notion of, “What the heck!?”

I’d make the argument that, frustrating as this may be, it all makes perfect sense. Sometime around early adolescence, our children’s primary support network begins to shift. Until this shift, parents tend to be the primary support and safety system; once the shift takes place, the peer group, their friends, become this new support system. Social media allows our children to connect with their peer group anytime, anyplace, in hundreds of ways. No need to meet at the playground anymore – I can get in touch with 10 friends at a time from my basement. No need to talk to you right now, mom, I can answer my question a thousand times in just a few seconds.

For the many that see this system as flawed – yes of course, you’re right. But the system itself isn’t intrinsically negative, and its popularity has almost everything to do with our deep-rooted need to be connected to one another. Even the spreading consumption of online pornography, I would argue, has to do with connection – yes, it is a deeply broken sense of connection, but the basic principle still applies: each of us is seeking to satisfy our desire to relate to others.

This issue is particularly divisive between parents and children because we grew up in a world where many of the current technologies simply didn’t exist. For this exact reason, it’s important that we work to learn more and stay updated. As parents, we must do our best to understand the culture our children are growing up in, and a large part of that means understanding the tools and means with which they connect to their peers and the world.

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