I am fairly sure that I owe my sanity to National Public Radio.
Whenever I overindulge in corporate media and feel myself winding up tighter and tighter till I’m ready to snap (and here “snap” usually means going on a blog rant), I switch to public radio and television for a while. It’s like therapy. News of the world is discussed calmly and in depth by people who actually have expertise in the subjects they are talking about. Commentary (opinion) and news (fact) are clearly delineated. Podcasts and shows cover a wide range of topics beyond the sensationalized flavor-of-the-month personality or the most recent act of violent insanity heralding the End of Days.
I like the science shows the best. Interesting and nice people enthusiastically researching cool things out of sheer curiosity or for the advancement of their chosen field. Sure, some of them may secretly dream of attaining fame and fortune for curing cancer. But isn’t that still better than merely fantasizing about fame and fortune for their own sakes?
The whole fame thing has been a constant question in my life. Honestly, what is the appeal? So you get your picture in the paper a lot, but the tradeoff from that point onward is never knowing who your true friends are. In case you aren’t convinced and you still want to live forever, here are my recipes for success:
15 minutes of fame: Audition for a casting show
15 months of fame: Become a Trump campaign spokesperson
15 years of fame: Compose a one-hit wonder song
15 decades of fame: Take over Germany
15 centuries of fame: Start a religion
15 millennia of fame: Fossilize
Eternal fame: Start a blog on WordPress
Where was I? Oh right. NPR.
Today I indulged in a bunch of podcasts all dealing with parenting and technology, the first being an interview with the author of “How to Raise a Wild Child”. It started with statistics that the average American child spends less than 10 minutes a day outside and up to 10 hours a day at some device with a screen. (First question: do I believe that? Not really. But even if it were one hour outside and 5 hours with a screen, I would still be alarmed.) It intrigued me and got me linking to all sorts of related stories. I heard great discussions about helicopter versus free range parenting including a story about some Americans who got into trouble (or maybe even arrested?) for allowing their kids to walk home from the playground alone. It seems that not only are kids rarely outside, they are basically never unsupervised.
When I was young, my mom didn’t know exactly where I was every second of the day. I spent a lot of my afternoons “bombing around” the neighborhood with the other kids on the block, riding bikes, playing games, taking walks to the Dime Store or 31 Flavors . . . It was understood that I would show up back home around dinnertime.
My own girls have grown up in the country in a house built into the side of a hill. Behind us, up a steep climb is a major road leading to the local spa, but spread out in front of us are rolling hills, fields, trails, streams and small forests. We can walk for a half hour in that direction before coming to a road. My daughters didn’t have the benefit of a neighborhood gang, but they had friends over or sometimes struck up short-lived friendships with young guests at the three B&B’s near our house. I can still remember the first time the two of them told me they were “going outside to play” and then took off. Over the next 4 or five hours, I heard their voices sporadically, but in between I wasn’t really sure what they were up to. I fought the impulse to go looking for them and reminded myself of the importance of trust. By early evening they had returned to the trampoline in my neighbor’s yard and I finally shouted down to them “Time to come home, girls. It’s getting dark.” And then a monstrous wave of nostalgia washed over me. How often had I heard that sentence in my own childhood?
Where was I? Oh right. NPR.
The next show I listened to was about a study finding that American parents were less happy than non-parents (mostly due to financial and work-related pressures). After the report above, this didn’t surprise me at all. With so few family-friendly policies, affordable daycare options, live-in grandparents and the fact that children apparently need to be supervised 24/7, I wonder how Americans ever succeed in combining careers and kids. It must be exhausting. I can imagine such harried parents being grateful for an hour or two of peace and quiet as their kids are glued to TV sets or playing some game online in their rooms with the doors closed . . .
The end of that show got me thinking about a local lecture I had missed (due to work) and so I found the link to the video and watched the entire 2 hours. Manfred Spitzer – a German expert on brain development – gave a talk about the dangers of introducing children to the digital world too soon. He has written two books (“Digital Dementia” and “Cybersick” – unfortunately neither of which has been translated into English) in which he explains very clearly why we should keep our children away from screens and their mindless, habit-forming instant gratification for as long as humanly possible. His prescriptions for good brain development of your children: 1) bilingualism, 2) music, 3) sports.
That all made me feel pretty good. By way of happy accident, my kids grew up speaking two languages, they were always encouraged to do sports by their gym teacher father, and they were both born with musical talent in their genes. They don’t like video games and watch very little TV – never during the day. I live in a country with family-friendly policies and in a marriage with a 50/50 dad. Very little of the above is of my own doing, beyond making a fortuitous decision here or there. I fully realize that I have been lucky.
Where was I?
I also fully realize the irony of confessing to hours and hours of internet consumption while writing on the topic of digital dementia – but all that surfing today did me a world of good. My mind finally detached from all the sensationalized reporting of creepy convention frenzy and found its way back to my real life, here and now, past and present. The corporate media had been sending me multiple messages that the world is falling apart and that my kids are in danger. NPR tells me that they are doing fine and have bright futures. I can now go to bed with a mind at ease.