May 1, 2013

Misty Watson: Our addiction to social media

I read something the other day that has stayed with me: The problem with today’s youth is they expect someone else to entertain them.

Because of that, they are not contributing. They aren’t contributing to the arts, to science or to society.

Obviously, that’s a large generalization and it doesn’t apply to every person under 20, but as a mom I’ve been thinking about ways to encourage my 18-month-old, Sophie, to avoid falling into that as she grows.

I admit it. I’m addicted to media.

And Sophie mimics me.

How can I be mad at her for wanting to play with my cellphone while I’m trying to send a text to a co-worker, or for wanting to play on my laptop while I’m toning photos for a client? (I run a part-time photography business). OK, or for trying to “help” me by clicking the wrong song on SongPop? That’s what she sees me do. I’m always in front of a screen.

No wonder our youth expect to be entertained constantly. That’s what we adults are teaching them.

We justify it by saying we don’t want to think because we’ve had a long day at work. We just want to lie on the couch and watch last night’s “Parks and Recreation” (that’s my favorite show, but replace it with whatever weird “vampire meets zombie and had a hot baby who is selling drugs to get by in a bad economy” show you’re watching).

I’ve been making a conscious effort to turn off, to unplug more often. I only watch TV or play online games when Sophie is asleep, wanting to play on her own or marathon nursing. Otherwise, the most I’ll do is let Pandora play in the background of whatever we’re doing.

I ran across a movement called Screen-Free Week, which began Monday and runs through Sunday. It is designed to encourage families to turn off their TVs, cellphones, computers and other devices to spend time together with each other and with friends. The website www.screenfree.org wants families to “play, read, daydream, create, explore nature.”

That seems like the perfect way to springboard into my new way of thinking: less time in front of a screen and more time at my daughter’s side as she explores the world around her. Obviously I can’t stay away from a screen for work, but I can when I’m home with Sophie and my husband, Chris Wheeler. I accept this challenge.

Just because the week has already started doesn’t mean you can’t join in. For those of you who love Pinterest, this is a good time to actually try out one of the thousand “why didn’t I think of this” posts you’ve pinned.

I have plenty of ideas for keeping older kids busy: arts and crafts; hikes; scavenger hunts of all sorts; playing on the playground; fun hands-on science experiments. But I’ve had to dig around for activities for a little monkey who wants to do nothing but climb on the furniture.

I turned to some fellow moms who suggested many sensory activities for me to try. Sensory activities are a great way to allow children to explore the world and learn through their senses.

In the past couple of weeks, since I started making more of an effort to come up with these well-thought-out, planned activities, I’ve noticed less mischief, less boredom.

I started with a salt tray. Just put regular table salt into a shallow dish of some sort. I gave Sophie some cookie cutters and let her play and make shapes in the salt. When she got bored — after about the thousandth “look” from her as she proudly pointed to the letter “S” — we added a spray bottle of water to give her another texture. Then we added food coloring to give her something else visual.

The next week I gave her a small storage tub full of water, several measuring cups, spoons and a plastic drinking cup. I spread a towel in the kitchen floor, stripped her to her diaper and let her splash and play and make a mess. I needed to mop anyway. (OK who really mops anymore? When I say mop, I mean use the Swiffer WetJet.)

When that became boring, I added food coloring. Food coloring helps everything become more exciting again!

I love seeing Sophie as she explores and how proud she is of what she can do. We clap and say “yay!” And I can see her learning. I see her understanding.

But just when I started to feel like SuperMom, my next activity failed miserably. I stayed up late one night making rainbow rice — a cup of white rice, food coloring and a tablespoon of white vinegar (which is the worst smell in the world to me). Mix it, then lay it out to dry. I was so proud. I had done six cups of rice, each cup a different color, and filled a tub.

I thought she would cheerfully play in it, feeling it, looking at the bright colors. But all she was interested in was flinging it across the house.

We play musical instruments, play with Play-Doh, dance, take walks outside, play ball, climb on the slide in our living room (doesn’t everyone buy a slide to keep in their living room?) and we can somehow manage to make it through the entire day without turning on the TV.

Now if I can just figure out how to keep my laptop closed and my cellphone off ...

Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. You can share in your social media addiction by friending her on Facebook, facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN, or on Twitter, @mistydwatson. You can email her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com.

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