The Lure of Distraction

I am in Clatskanie, Oregon, visiting my mom and autistic 45 year old brother. It is my dad however, who passed away shortly before we moved to Texas, that I am reminded of today.

Dad led an active, fulfilling life in this small secluded town nestled in the Cascade Range. Born in 1919, he lived through the great depression and served as a medic in World War II. As the town’s only lawyer, he also served as the school district and county attorney. At the same time he raised cattle on 300 acres and kept himself physically active by managing the fences that he built around our entire acreage. As kids we helped maintain the property which included a large garden, a variety of fruit trees and all kinds of sweet Oregon berries. In our spare time, we entertained ourselves by climbing trees, hiking through the forest and building forts. We tied ropes to the barn rafters for swinging. We trapped crayfish in the creek beds. On rainy, cold days we played board games and read books.

My dad was an avid reader and expected his kids to be as well. He was a quiet man who loved solitude and he prided himself in keeping his mind sharp. He practiced the skill of memorizing his entire life and even though he did not embrace the Christian faith until later in life, it was the Psalms he chose to memorize – in three different languages. With God’s word firmly planted within his mind, it eventually enthralled his heart as well. God drew my dad to Himself through the quiet recesses of his own mind, which had been trained and developed by well formed habits over the years.

Clatskanie is still relatively secluded but technological advances are making their way in. They have not swallowed up everything yet however. My mom has no computer or internet service. She only recently acquired a cell phone. Service is limited due to the large mountains that surround this tiny town. My mind slows down when I visit my mom. Maybe that is a good thing.

We raise kids today in a very fast paced era. Technology has brought us wonderful advancements and has greatly expanded our opportunities, but I fear that we may be losing something fearfully essential- and vitally human – in all this progress. (If you think I sound sensational just type “post human” into your favorite search engine!)

It is what I see kids NOT doing that concerns me.

God created us uniquely human and put within us a certain requirement for balance. When we eat too much, we gain weight. When we exercise too little we get lethargic. We easily grow addicted to sugar or caffeine and bad habits develop before we even realize them. Even a life of prayer – or prayerlessness – is formed by habit. I believe that God designed us to be most satisfied with life when we are principled and self controlled and He gave us the responsibility to develop healthy habits to that end.

I wonder what habits are formed in our minds with the constant distractions that come along with our media savvy way of life. I see an alarming and growing form of distracted thinking in kids today. Many live in a state of constant noise in the form of music, electronic chatter and entertainment. With electronic media at their fingertips 24/7, they are enticed into a virtual world which includes sports, games and even relationships. More and more, they choose distant, superficial human relationships over ones that are real and personal, and they choose virtual activities over experiencing the amazingly complex and satisfying world God created for them.

And have you noticed that the majority of toys available for young children come with annoying sounds and blinking lights? That must be what sells! Susan Hill, writing in the June issue of Standpoint, says that “if children do not learn to focus and concentrate in a pool of quietness, their minds become fragmented and their temperaments irritable, their ability to absorb knowledge and sift it, grade it and evaluate it do not develop fully”. She goes on to say that “in adapting to constant noise, we seem to have become afraid of silence. Why? Are we afraid of what we will discover when we come face to face with ourselves there? Perhaps there will be nothing but a great void, nothing with us, and nothing outside of us either. Terrifying. Let’s drown our fears out with some noise, quickly.”

We would not think to place an infant out under the hot summer sun for an extended period of time. We understand the damage. Yet, two- thirds of children under six live in homes that keep the television on half or more of the time, an environment proven to be linked to attention deficiencies.

What will happen to our children if they never learn to think in silence or to stay focused on difficult mental tasks for extended periods of time but instead allow distractions to govern their brains? What will happen if day after day, month after month, and year after year, they are pulled by and to what happens outside them and fail to develop internal habits of the mind that govern what they attend to? Distracted thinking is dreadfully habitual and even addictive, causing solitude and quiet contemplation to be intolerable.

Today’s children need to learn to reason, to contemplate, to pray and to problem solve within this fast paced era. To do so they need to learn what it feels like to be in control of their own brains, actively developing habits that inhibit responses to the multitude of distractions that come their way. Otherwise, their lives will be marked by prayerlessness, shallowness, and folly. With weakly developed souls, they will be governed instead by external forces, and enticed there by their own appetites and emotions.

The next series of blogs will address how we can stem this tide of distraction for ourselves and for our children and encourage important habits of the mind that are so essential for our children to gain in the midst of this technological world.

I value your comments and insights as we consider together this essential aspect of raising and educating our children in today’s world.

FAMILY CHALLENGES:

1. Read Proverbs 9 as a family and contrast the “Way of Wisdom” with the “Way of Folly.” Wisdom is defined as discernment, or making good use of knowledge. Folly on the other is considered weak or light minded conduct, thoughtless process.

2. Discuss the following quote by author, Albert Robida, born in 1848 who refused to participate in modern advancements of his time. – “Their every day will be caught in the wheels of a mechanized society to the point where I wonder how they will find the time to enjoy the most simple pleasures we had at our disposal: Silence. Calm. Solitude. Having never known them, they shall not be able to miss them. AS for me, I do—and I pity them.

3. Discuss the following text found on page 77 of John Piper’s book Pierced by the Word – “If all other variables are equal, your capacity to know God deeply will probably diminish in direct proportion to how much television you watch. There are several reasons for this. One is that television reflects American culture at its most trivial. And a steady diet of triviality shrinks the soul. You get used to it. It starts to seem normal. Silly becomes funny. And funny becomes pleasing. And pleasing becomes soul-satisfaction. And in the end, the soul that is made for God has shrunk to fit snugly around triteness. This may be unnoticed, because if all you’ve known is American culture, you can’t tell there is anything wrong. If you have only read comic books, it won’t be strange that there are no novels in your house. If you live where there are no seasons, you won’t miss the colors of fall. If you watch fifty TV ads each night, you may forget there is such a thing as wisdom. TV is mostly trivial. It seldom inspires great thoughts or great feelings with glimpses of great Truth. God is the great absolute, all-shaping Reality. If He gets any airtime, He is treated as an opinion. There is no reverence. No trembling. God and all that He thinks about the world is missing. Cut loose from God and everything goes down.”

SUGGESTED BOOKS:

Distracted by Maggie Jackson

Thrilled to Death by Archibald Hart

Pierced by the Word by John Piper

7 Comments

  1. Really makes me stop and think of my own bad habits and how I have raised my kids. I grew up with the TV on from waking to sleeping. I’m looking forward to your future blogs on this subject.
    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  2. there is hardly anything worthwhile on TV yet we plop in front of it after a long day’s work, hoping to decompress. i hope that we will soon finalize our decision to get rid of it for good, even though DVR is pretty nice…

    Reply
  3. So good and thankful again for your gentle but firm reminder of how important silence is.

    Reply
  4. Mrs. Schuknecht,
    Thank you for reminding me that I don’t need all of the modern things in the world to stay happy.This was very insightful.

    Reply
    • Dear Breanna,

      Thank you for taking the time to read this and for commenting! What a blessing to know students like you who are working hard at developing solid habits of the mind as well as hearts that honor God.

      Reply
  5. I really am looking forward to reading the rest of your posts on this subject. My daughter is only one and yet it is already so tempting to allow way too much TV.

    Reply
  6. Ellen,
    I am so looking forward to these next posts. This is an issue I am very tuned into right now. I need someone to learn from, and to challenge me when I feel alone with my anti-technology self! Thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply

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