This may not seem to be an answer, Bob, but hang on and read it all, please. My parents live in a resort area and their kids and grandkids love to come visit and stay for a while, especially in the summer. I just got a new Oriental Trading Company catalog, and saw the magnet balls and bars that you put together like a building set, and some building blocks. I said to my husband, "This might sound weird, but I'm getting these for my parents for Christmas." My plan is to have lots of toys like that for them to have on hand for the great-grandkids when they visit. There were kid stilts, the kind that look like tin cans with ropes that I used to make when I was a kid, but these look like duck feet or monster feet. There were a lot of toys for active outdoor play or imaginative indoor play (it rains there, too). That's my plan. When the little kids are away from video games and cartoons, they can dig into the new toy box and find something fun to do. It'll be a memory blast for my parents, too.
I've often wondered the same thing. As a kid (which wasn't long ago) I wasn't allowed more than a few hours of TV and some of that had to be educational (3 2 1 contact, Reading Rainbow, etc) and was "kicked out" for a while each day to play. I also lived in the country and was made to work in the groves and in the pasture with my father. I think it really helped shape me. However, We have to do the best with what we have been given at school.
I could probably stop taking blood pressure medication and spend more time teaching and less time "managing" my classes. We can dream...right?
btw - I teach English (8th). Over half my kids read below grade level, refuse to write (they just hate it), and perish the thought of them picking up a book - heaven forbid! And why would they want to? They can turn on the tv, talk on the phone, play a video game, and I.M. their friends all at the same time - reading is borrrrrrrrring!!! And if they can't read or write, oh well, we'll socially promote them and our children will someday have to worry about how to afford so many unemployable people receiving social services later on.
I've been pondering the same thing these past few weeks. As bad as the hurricane was, and as much as it has hurt people, I found some good in it also. With no power, kids rode their bikes around the neighborhood. There were little girls playing with a jumprope in their driveway. I never knew I had so many neighbors. As I was discussing the effects with my class on Monday, a couple of my students mentioned that their neighborhood had a block party and everyone really enjoyed themselves. So, as wonderful as technology is, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to miss out on it once in a while.
I've had parents come into conferences complaining about how many hours their kids spend in front of the PlayStation or computer. I want to say to them... Who is the adult in the house? Who makes the rules? They generally say something like, "This is all my child is interested in." To me it sounds like a good argument for junking the machine and getting that child outdoors!
I think society sends very clear messages -- that we DESERVE for everything to be quick and easy, that anything that requires more than a touch of a button is simply too much effort, and that you should always solve a problem by buying a machine to do it for you or, if that isn't available, hiring someone to do your dirty work. A lot of kids have never learned any frustration tolerance because they've never had the experience of trying, failing, trying again, and succeeding. Yes, it takes a certain amount of mastery to learn the computer or to play a video game, but at heart, kids are hands on creatures. They should have the satisfaction of building something from scratch, creating their own stories (not pressing a button on the back of the Barbie and listen passively) and making their own art and music.
It's such a pleasure when kids learn that they -- not a machine -- can be in control of results, that putting in effort leads you to feel proud and accomplished, and that there's more to life than what you see on television.
What if mom's could manage the distractions because they had the time and energy? Is Bob managing in his home, or does he leave it to his wife, or imagine other dads are helping? What if moms didn't work? What if it was easy to get dinner on the table, have clean laundry, and manage the homework demands from 5 PM to 8 PM easily and peacefully? Video games, endless channels on TV, and computers are distractions that need to be managed. What do you tell you child when they want a new video game for Christams? What do you tell your family--they can't have cable? My very good friend homeschools, has no television or videos, and her kids read endlessly because that's the only entertainment. She has managed to assemble the world Bob wishes for. Is she living in the reality of today's society? I don't think so.
I never had cable growing up, or video games. My parents told me they didn't want endless TV watching and video game playing in the house. I wasn't allowed to have a TV or computer in my bedroom, either. In some ways, this was not easy. I felt left out when classmates talked about the latest shows or games. I also wasn't allowed to see R rated movies for years after 'everyone else' was. My parents had the confidence in their parenting skills to realize that they had to do what was right for their children, regardless of what everyone else was doing. It annoyed me, as a kid, but it also sent a very clear message -- that my parents had the authority in the house, that society's trend-of-the-moment wasn't always right, and that it was more important to use my imagination and intellect than it was to keep abreast of the latest TV shows.
So I spent hours in my room writing diaries and stories, drawing comics, talking into my tape recorder, making crafts, and practicing instruments. I developed ways to entertain myself. When I was a little older and outside the insulated world of my small elementary school, I began to encounter other kids who led the same lifestyle. I went to an Ivy League college and found that most of the people I met there spent very little time playing video games or watching TV as kids. They certainly didn't let it get in the way of their school activities and other pursuits. The more successful and well-rounded the person, in general, the less time s/he spent as a consumer of mass media. (Partial exception for the film students and computer science majors, who took their interest in electronic media very seriously.)
These days it's not just TV and video games, or even computer games -- EVERYTHING is electronic. My 3-year old and 6-year old cousins have so many talking and singing toys that, if they wanted to, they could sit around the playroom and push buttons all day. They would never have to come up with their own ideas. All the dolls come with names, stories, and in many cases DVDs. In the best case scenario, the child presses the talking button a few times and then gets bored with it. The whole point of having a doll is to engage in open-ended pretend play.
I'm not sure what the implication is in the last post -- that modern families need electronic media because parents are too busy to spend time with their kids? Or that families these days are not strong enough to impose their own rules and traditions? "Today's society" is composed of yesterday's decisions. I think it's completely appropriate for us to question whether the adults in kids' lives are making good decisions, especially when it directly impacts how they perform in the classroom.
And I think any mom who says she doesn't needs to look at her priorities. There is a happy medium between none (as your friend) and moderation. I have cable, but we seldom watch TV on the weekends. Through the week, we do, but not until after homework and chores are finished. My son does have a video game. He is a senior this year and it is his first. I will buy him a new game for it this Christmas, but I know friends of his that have owned every single video game system that has come on the market. I know many of my students tell me they play their video games all night every night. That doesn't happen here - not because I have to stop him. We do things together - go camping, snowmobiling, hunting, shopping. If he has free time and we're all sitting around the house, yes he'll play it, but it's not constant and it's not every day.