In my last couple of posts, (1,2) I've discussed the way in which our special needs children use the media to accelerate their learning. I've talked about how critical the media is for visual learners and how these kids learn in a completely different manner to their peers.
Now however, we need to look at the negative aspects of this media obsession. I've already discussed the possibility of learned violent behaviours, irresponsibility (jackass) and bad language. In this post, I want to look at some of the less obvious types of negatives.
Inattention and Immediacy
In the last decade have become an immediate society. We expect our movies to start with action sequence immediately and without introduction. If the film is a slower one then often the action is the film's credit sequence itself; Panic Room for example. I've noticed that many kids and adults today simply don't have the patience to watch an older film and it's one of the main reasons that Hollywood thinks that it can get away with poor quality fast-paced remakes instead of original ideas.
In Panic Room, most of the action happens in the credits.
This immediacy isn't just in our films, it's everywhere. Email is too slow nowadays and instant messaging (chatting) is preferred. Even worse, slow typists or people who can't be bothered thinking of words can simply click "like" or use abbreviations such as LOL as standard responses.
Even our thirst for knowledge is affected by immediacy and anyone who has a question doesn't bother to think it through. Not when the answer can be found on our phones in seconds. In fact, Google's Gmail is taking the interesting step of integrating a research pane into their mail system for greater immediacy.
Unfortunately the majority of life's little problems don't have immediate solutions and the youth of today simply lack the patience and determination to find solutions. I'm not just talking about math problems here, I'm talking about relationship issues - or even just taking some time out to "visit grandma" without having to take a nintendo DS along for distraction.
Then there's the problem of overload. Our brains are constantly working. It used to be the case that people could leave their workplace and have some "downtime" on public transport but now our ever-present phones, pads and computers provide a constant connection to the office, the internet, games, music, ebooks and other forms of mental stimulation.
Even the smaller moments where our brains could grab a quick break, such as when we were in queues, are gone. Go to McDonalds or the post office and watch the queues. Everyone is playing with their mobiles. Sadly the same is true in restaurants, where people are surrounded by families but play with their mobiles instead.
Our brains need rest - as do our fingers. Overload isn't just about the huge masses of information available to us. It's also about the lack of breaks.
It's little wonder that we are seeing more mental illnesses and more people "snapping" than ever before. We're all under a huge amount of stress and we're unable to take breaks.
Online danger is not just about predators, bullies and stalkers. Arguably, most of our kids online behaviour can be cause for concern. As a father whose eight-year old booked a complete overseas wedding package for himself using only made-up credit card numbers, I can attest to the danger of the internet in the wrong hands.
An Internet nanny might stop pornographic materials but it won't necessarily stop your child from installing malware or providing tracable details in an online form - particularly if there's the possibility of winning a toy in the process. It also won't stop your older children from finding and using your credit cards online.
Don't forget that although you might use a secure firewall at home or put net nanny on your home PC, your child will increasingly be using other devices to connect to the internet. They may not have a data connection on their phone or ipad (or Nintendo DS) but if they're close to McDonalds or another place with free wi-fi, then the internet is only a few clicks away.
Any activity which puts you into an immobile position for long periods of time or which puts muscles through significant repetitive motion is unhealthy.
Television, computers and handheld devices all fall into this category. One of the major issues with Asperger's syndrome is "low muscle tone" a condition in which the layering of musculature on the body doesn't provide effective support. This causes a person to lean or to slouch. Slouching puts strain on the back and can cause long term posture issues and back pain.
Then there's the repetitive motion of keyboarding, mousing, gaming or touch-screening. All of these can cause overuse injuries and eventually RSI. Even worse, slouching can exacerbate these injuries.
There's plenty more to consider, there's eyestrain, there's vitamin D deficiency which comes from lack of sunlight and there's the nutrition problems which come from long-term computer addiction. In short, there are a lot of health risks to consider.
I'm not a big believer in the idea that the consumption of violent media necessarily makes a person violent but ask me if computer games create violence and I'll agree whole-heartedly.
It's not the violent games either, in fact, it's more often the cute innocent ones that are to blame. It's the froggers (showing my age) and the Mario's of the world who are to blame.
It's amazing how often I've seen kids - not just my own - throwing controllers, shouting at the TV and lashing out at their friends over a simple game of Lego Star Wars - in fact, I'm sure I've been there a few times myself.
Nobody likes to lose but sometimes I wonder if the makers of modern games take a perverse pleasure in making even the "easy" levels of their game impossible to complete. (and don't even get me started on the issues of trying to return a game to the store because it's "too hard" for the kids).
Poor game performance can ruin the mood for the rest of the day and make it impossible to concentrate. You don't know the outcome of a game level until you play it and even the best games can quickly turn sour. For this reason, gaming before school or before homework is a huge "no no". Just don't allow it.
Gaming also impacts sleep and I know that if I'm "helping" the boys with their lego Star Wars/Batman/Harry Potter/indy..etc games, I dream of bricks. Even worse, it begins to spill over into real life. I remember playing Doom and changing jobs at a similar time. I started work in a fabrication plant and there were barrels everywhere. I clearly remember thinking (seriously), If I could blow those barrels up there could be a door or prize behind it. Computer game realism and rendering has come a long way since then and I suspect that "spilling over into reality" is becoming even more of a problem.
Games are actually very helpful - up to a point - and then they quickly become detrimental.
My last point concerns social repression - and this is increasingly becoming an issue with adults too. How often do you recall talking to someone who just won't stop fiddling with their phone? How many people use phones, books, pads and media players on public transport instead of talking to their fellow travelers?
It's a big issue because people with Asperger's syndrome tend to be more prone to this kind of behaviour and yet, they're the ones who need to social interaction practice the most.
At the very least, when you have visitors over, your kids should be talking to them, not hiding away in their rooms playing games or reading books.
In my next post, I'll cover drawing the line, some rules and methods for limiting media access and ways to make those non-media interactions with kids more enjoyable.