Screen Time and the Loss of a Teachable Moment

It’s been a long, hot summer and my girls and I were coming off of a two week period of being stuck at the house because of sickness and surgery recovery. We all hit our breaking point, and the only thing that seemed to offer me an hour without whines of boredom was the iPad. We have two tablets, a Chromebook, and a laptop in the house, but my three girls rarely get use of any of them. They definitely ask, but the answer is almost always, “Go play with your toys.”

So, I guess my threshold for refusing electronics is seven weeks of summer vacation, because I finally said yes. It would ensure a much needed hour of quiet, and I felt good about it. As I unloaded the dishwasher, I heard a loud thump at the door. The girls looked up, and I asked, “What was that?” They shrugged their shoulders and went back into their electronic induced coma.

I walked over and opened the door. There was a bird lying on the ground. It was on its back and breathing quickly. I shut the door, walked past the girls back into the kitchen, and googled what to do with a bird that hit the window. The consensus was that it might be stunned, so I decided to try that route first. In case you’ve ever wondered, you put it in a small box with breathing holes and place the box in a quiet, dark area so its heart rate can come down.

I started gathering the supplies and called my husband to come home early for lunch to help. After I got off the phone, I went to check on the bird, but it was already dead. My husband came home anyway and moved the bird. I had a moment of silence for our fallen friend and went back to unloading the dishwasher.

As I finished my chore, it suddenly occurred to me that the girls had no idea what had just happened. Normally, if I simply walk quickly past them or pick up my phone to call someone, I’m bombarded with “Where are you going?” and “Who are you talking to?” Instead, the only acknowledgement of an incident that literally took place five yards away from them was a glance towards the door and a shoulder shrug.

I guess I could have called attention to the ordeal, but just like the iPad cave-in, I took the easy route. In the moment, I was glad that I didn’t have to explain what was going on or deal with the aftermath of emotions that would follow. But as I looked back on it, I became disappointed. I thought about the missed opportunity to answer questions about why a bird would fly into a window or how we could try to save it. I thought about the lost chance to discuss death and empathy for not just animals but people as well.

I also started to look at what this meant for society as a whole. Is this why so many are able to ignore suffering that is taking place just yards away from them? Has unbridled access to electronics given us the ability to simply look up and shrug in response to someone else’s trauma and hardship? To not have the urge to investigate deeper in order to learn better how to help?

I am not naive enough to think I can eliminate electronics from my family’s life, but I am more resolved than ever to keep screen time down to only what is required for education and what is necessary for living in a computer-dependent society. My girls need to be aware of their surroundings enough to want to learn more about them, and I need to be available to answer their questions. We will all be better people because of it.

Mandy grew up in Baton Rouge and graduated from LSU with a degree in Anthropology. In an attempt to figure out what do with an Anthropology degree (seriously, what do you do with it?!?), she moved to DC and received a masters degree in Forensic Science at George Washington University. Still at a loss for what she wanted to be when she grew up, Mandy moved to Austin, TX. Over the course of seven years, she built a successful(ish) jewelry design business, met some of her favorite people ever, imported her now husband from Baton Rouge, and made the decision to move back to Baton Rouge to start a family. Since then, Mandy has worked for a jewelry designer, a CPA, and now a financial advisor. And in between, she was a stay at home mom to three feisty, but sweet daughters, two of which are twins. Her girls love to dance and sing just like their mom, and Mandy's dream of a possible girl version of the Hansons or a Judds-like situation is becoming more of a reality every day. In the meantime, she is pouring her creativity into her writing which can be described as honest, funny and little bit snarky, just like Mandy. You can check out more of her musings at Tantrums and Twirls.

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