Teaching kids to hand-write letters the old-fashioned way, might sound like a step backward to some, but there are plenty of good reasons to encourage this effort. Let me count the ways…
Within these last few years many published scientific studies have emerged warning us of the downside of our highly technological lifestyle. Aside from their addictive nature which capitalizes on human psychology, our gadgets scintillate us in a variety of ways. Their novelty chases away boredom, and awkwardness in public. Their instant connectivity allows one to never feel left out or alone. Social media ramps up our urge to compete. We can always know what the kool people are doing, saying, and wearing. And have you noticed? These devices make great babysitters.
Steve Jobs limited his kids’ screen time. They NEVER used an iPad! Never. Ten years since the iPhone was introduced, now the American Psychiatric Association ‘s DSM-5 (the psychiatrist’s bible) lists “Internet Addiction Disorder” as a newly minted mental ailment.
Tristan Harris, a former Google manager, calls his iPhone “the slot machine in my pocket.” These devices are stealing our focus in this “Attention economy.” We find it more difficult to concentrate, think critically or deeply. That social competition and FOMO (fear of being left out) leaves us depressed and anxious. Our ability to communicate, to have a face-to-face conversation with another human being is diminishing. Along those lines, our verbal skills are evaporating. Empathy, the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes, is a shrinking commodity these days. And then there’s that blue screen that interferes with our brain’s melatonin which impairs our sleep patterns. So, guess what happens when you put an iPad into the hands of a young child-which is what they are eagerly doing in schools and calling it education?
A human ‘s prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until about 25 years of age. That’s the part of the brain called the executive function which regulates impulse control, emotions, and empathy. Staring at a screen for hours on end impairs the development of this part of a child’s brain.
“The problem is the age of exposure: hyperarousing screens can be damaging to a young child’s brain, which simply is not developmentally ready to handle that level of stimulation.” -Nicholas Kardaras, Glow Kids (p.34)
Dr. John Vallance, the headmaster of Sydney Grammar, a prestigious Australian boys’ school, feels strongly that…”this investment in classroom technology is going to be seen as a huge fraud. We are spending more on education than ever before and the results are getting worse and worse.”
Dr. Vallance believes “in the educational benefit of learning to write by hand: Allowing children to lose the capacity to express themselves by writing is a dangerous thing.” Glow Kids (p.213)
“Technology is a servant, not a master.” Dr. Vallance summarizes our current digital situation-“the tail is wagging the dog.”(p.214)
Balance is what’s missing in our relationship to our gadgets. It’s not that we lack willpower. Tristan Harris explains how our devices were specifically engineered to manipulate us. He says, “…That there’s a 1000 people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In other words, we’ve lost control and our devices are controlling us.
In How To Break Up With Your Phone, Catherine Price bravely admits to her own phone addiction and generously offers a 30 day digital detox program. She suggests multiple healthy ideas to reclaim one’s attention: establishing routine “Digital Sabbaths,” (a day without your phone), taking phone-free walks in Nature, doing mindfulness meditation, having face-to-face conversations with friends, writing in a journal, and even, WRITING SOMEONE A LETTER! (p.132)
Enter Mr. Boddington…If any of the above scares you (and it should), you might like to reclaim some balance for yourself and your child. If so, then I want to introduce you to Mr. Boddington’s Studio, specifically to The Secret Society of Letter Writers. Children between the ages of 4 to 12 are eligible to join in the fun of getting a pen friend. Master Boddington has global reach with a current membership of 1,866 kids. Parental approval is required. Mr. Boddington has strict rules to protect your child’s privacy. Of course, you will need to supervise and assist your child in the craft of letter writing. Handwriting in the form of print or script is requested. This is a marvelous opportunity to introduce your child to the art of writing a real letter. One that needs to be mailed!
Yes, time is involved, but the benefits are numerable. For one, your child will establish a real connection with a pen pal. The letters will improve his/her handwriting ability, and build confidence in the area of self expression with better written communication skills. http://www.mrboddington.com/sslw/
Of course, letter writing is my cup-of-tea. However, other non-tech activities must be found to replace the “old addictive screen behavior.” This is a chance to revive a child’s interest in a hobby, in art, music, journal writing. Kids need to connect with other people, playing games with real human connection. “They need to engage in actual experiences not e-experiences… Nature immersion has been shown to be the most effective way to help people get grounded and reconnected to themselves and to reality.” Glow Kids (p.239).
Nicholas Kardaras, Glow Kids-How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-And How To Break The Trance (St. Martin Press, 2016).
Catherine Price, How To Break Up With Your Phone (Ten Speed Press, 2018)
Bianca Bosker, Addicted to Your Phone? You’re Not Alone-“The Binge Breaker “(The Atlantic, Nov. 2016).
Adam Alter, Irresistible-The Rise of Addictive Technology and The Business of Keeping Us Hooked (Penquin Press, 2017).
Johann Hari, Lost Connections-Uncovering The Real Causes Of Depression-And The Unexpected Solutions (Bloomsbury, 2018).
Special thanks to Jennifer Isham for sending me Mr. Boddington’s link.