Real life is not on a screen

By Joe Rector

I heard on the news the other day that the average teen spends approximately six hours a day on social media and games. Most of us old folks condemn that kind of wasted time until we hear that in our days as teens, we spent about the same number of hours watching television. The one caveat to that statement is that we had only one television for the entire family and watched it as a family. We also spent plenty of time outside. Other boys from the neighborhood came to our house, where we played baseball and tackle football. We also rode bikes and skateboards without helmets or pads. Yes, it was a dangerous time for children who dared to have fun without being bundled up like the little brother in “A Christmas Story.”

These days, it’s hard to know whether or not any children live in the neighborhood. They never come outside; instead, their time is spent gazing at the screens on phones, iPads and computers. The only parts of their bodies that are exercised are their thumbs. Some have better setups and can communicate with other friends as they play games. Instead of calling each other, they text. I don’t type fast enough to carry on communications. However, younger people know the shortcuts and zip off long conversations in no time. Spotting a teen who spends too much time on a technological toy is easy. They have no ability to interact with people in social settings.

We oldsters would have said “amen” if we had a personal phone. Instead, we had to hold conversations on the phone on the wall, usually in the kitchen. The entire family might be sitting there as boys asked girls out for dates or when girls tried to talk about the latest news about themselves and other teens. Yes, those conversations were private and caused plenty of embarrassment for the teen standing in front of parents, brothers and sisters who might be present.

Young folks are also tied to their screens at home so much that they have little interest in learning to drive. They respond “why” when someone asks them if they are excited about getting a license. Many teens don’t want to drive. In fact, they seem afraid to sit behind the wheel of a car. I suppose their fears are the result of not being out in public too often. The thoughts of maneuvering through traffic and interacting with other drivers must frighten them. For those of us who walked most places as teenagers, getting a license and borrowing our parents’ cars equaled freedom.

I’m typing this column on a computer as I also listen to the television. No, I don’t type well. In fact, I failed the course in high school. I’m thankful for a tool that makes this process easier. Yes, I look at Facebook and YouTube. However, I don’t spend an entire day with my face buried in a screen. I need to get up and move around too much, and I am easily bored. My time is much more enjoyably spent working on some project or chore. I wish young people would spend more time outside doing something—working, playing, walking with friends. I’d love for them to get a little dirty sometimes. Maybe more time outside would be a wonderful preventative to falling ill so often.

I love young people. My grandson Madden is a high school student, and he falls into the very things I’ve discussed. He also plays soccer and walks with friends throughout their neighborhood. In May, he will have the chance to earn his license and then drive. I’m scared to death for him to begin operating a car, but I’m excited that he’s excited about driving. He’s rounding into a “normal” teen, at least according to my standards. I want his life to be filled with a variety of experiences, not just those he’s had in his room on some doodad with a screen. Life is much better when we’re together. Make that teen exit the dark cave and see what else life holds.