A twelve year old girl completes her homework and heads to her room to watch her favourite YouTube channels and Netflix. She has full use of an iPad and messages her friends, plays on different apps and settles into a show. She is a good student. She is alone in her room.
Her 14 year old brother receives tutoring and is diligent in his studies. Once he completes his work, he goes into his own room with his phone and his laptop. He plays games on his phone, messages his friends and plays video games. He is alone in his room.
Dad settles in downstairs on the TV and watches primarily sports channels.
Mom settles upstairs in the master bedroom, watching her favourite shows and connecting with family and friends on Skype and social media.
Grandparents also live in the home, and they are watching TV in another room.
I am at a restaurant where a large family gather for a celebration. One of the toddlers is sitting quietly at the table watching a cartoon on an iPad while the rest of the family is chatting and connecting with others around the table.
As I sit here staring at my computer, I know that I am also spending good amounts of time focused on a screen. My own life sees me spending hours in some form of isolation connecting to my laptop.
So, what's wrong with this really?
We have spent millions of years surviving in tribes. We have chemical responses that favour human connection. When we are around people who care about us, it affects our body's ability to stay calm, digest food, breathe slower, feel relaxed, think clearly, make better decisions, and heal faster. It makes a difference on how we feel about ourselves. It improves our ability to regulate our feelings. It provides us with practice in social engagement.
All of that practice in social engagement helps us learn to regulate our own feelings. It helps us practice those all important social emotional skills of connecting with others. It is the tiny small nuances of human interaction, repeated thousands and thousands of times that inform all of our body. These small bits of information teach our brain how to get along with others, take care of our big feelings and work in collectives.
We are missing out on all the practice that are body and brains have utilized for its practice. Young brains especially need this engagement. I am not calling for an all out ban of screen time. This is impossible. However, we all need to get as much time as we can within our families, schools and communities, that encourage collective engagement.
We need to practice communal experiences because that is what our biology requires to practice social emotional skills.
Common experiences with other humans.
Eat a meal together, watch a movie together, play a board game together, go for a walk together, listen to a podcast or story together, cook together, color together, work together. Find some ways to include the practice of common experiences. Our brains need this and dare I say, our hearts need it too.
Everyone in their corners watching their own thing is the new normal. Find ways to disrupt this practice. Over the long run, this is how we develop healthy families, communities and cultures.