America’s colleges and universities may be the best in the world but our nation’s students are not faring so well in the process. Economist Mark Schneider recently referred to colleges with significant dropout rates as “failure factories” and he sadly considers them the norm.  America does a good job of enrolling students in four year colleges, but only half end up with bachelor’s degrees, the second worst rate in the world.  The dropout problem is even worse in our nation’s community colleges.
Remember Carly?  (Read posts on January 15th and 17th) Her story is unfortunately very common and becoming more so.  I believe the problem has to do with vital habits of thought, left undeveloped during the formative years.
My husband is a mathematics instructor in a public high school where texting and headphones are difficult to compete with for attention.   With many students, the devices have won. While he can insist that cell phones and headsets be put away during class, these students spend class time merely waiting for the bell to ring, when they can once again busy themselves with the activities their minds long for and are accustomed to.
They have grown addicted to multitasking multiple sources of stimulation such as iPods, cell phones, MP3 players, TV or the internet.  They juggle their attention between these various forms of distraction, always looking for the latest text or email, while music flows directly into their ears or a TV invites them into the modern pop culture.  This jumping around in the brain not only disrupts attention and learning but also creates a temporary feeling of pleasure because it increases the flow of stress hormones.  Scientists believe these students will not bode well because the resulting habits are damaging. “Our brains are not designed to enjoy a constant, high level of stimulation”, says Dr. Archibald Hart in Thrilled to Death.  He goes on to say that “our kids are overindulged in seeking too much stimulation for their brain’s pleasure center and that is slowly deregulating it…causing it to lose its power to enthrall.”  Fearful of silence and bored with one-on-one conversation, they seek the world of fast flowing sounds and thrilling sensations to fill the emptiness within.
Most of us share a genuine desire to simplify our lives but our solutions are all too often external in nature.  We cut back on the number of activities our kids are involved in.  We reduce our commitments and expectations. While this is often a good decision, perhaps we are missing the most important place that needs to be addressed —putting boundaries and limits around the distractions that come at us all hours of the day, every day of the week, and even into the night.
We tend to think of self control in terms of behavior.  Yet everything we do and every decision we make begins in our mind.  Self control is really a cognitive issue, the ability to know what to focus on and what to ignore.
Glen and I taught our three children to drive in Bend, Oregon where snow or ice is likely to cover the roads for many months of the year.  If our car happened to hit an icy spot, we learned to ignore the impulsive reaction to brake.  Instead we learned to take our foot off the gas and gear down the engine so that we would not spin out of control.  Our kids must learn to manage their lives in this fast paced world that is decidedly dependent upon technology.  But when they hit those challenging times – those icy spots in life – their inner controls and the voice they listen to within will be what keeps them from crashing.
As Oswald Chamber says, “spiritual concentration is needed to maintain the conception of Jesus as Master”.  The real test of spiritual focus is being able to bring your mind and thoughts under control.  That is our personal challenge in today’s highly distracting world and we face an even greater challenge in shaping the hearts and minds of our children as they grow and mature amidst this rapidly changing world.
Galatians 5: 22:
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Some “old fashioned” Suggestions:

  1. When your children are young, put off as long as you can and as much as you can their exposure to technology.  They will rapidly become tech savvy in later years.
  2. Regularly schedule “unplugged” times for your family when all forms of media are turned off.  Once you get used to it, you will be surprised at how pleasurable and valuable these times can be.
  3. Always keep cell phones and TVs turned off during meal times.