The New Playground: Part 2

the new playground

Continuing the Dialogue about Technology and the Lives of our Kids

Read part 1 of this series here.

I recall a day in the woods behind my house in Delightful, Ohio - a town that sounds rather idyllic. But it was just a town…if that…really nothing more than a crossroads in the middle of a slightly larger town, next to a big town and not far from a city.

My friends and I must have been between fort-building projects. I don’t remember if we had our wannabe BMX bikes with us. And I’m not sure exactly how far in the woods we’d gone or how long we’d been there. But we were exploring with no particular destination.

Unsupervised. Uninhibited.

Two of my friends were boy scouts. One of them was a boy scout’s boy scout. His name was Daniel, and he was an old soul. When one of us fell down the rock pile behind the neighbor’s house, Daniel would patch us up. When we needed fire, he’d light it. When we needed food, he’d find it.

A Moment of Restraint

And so it was that day in the woods. We were exploring. Walking. Throwing stuff. Probably half-listening to Daniel tell us about indigenous birds or cumulus clouds. And then we stumbled upon a patch of greenery in a clearing. This greenery, Daniel said, was a healthy plant that people would eat when they were lost in the woods. It was edible and incredibly hard to find. How lucky for us to have found it! How jealous Daniel’s fellow boy scouts would be when they heard of his discovery! How scrumptious!

The other guys didn’t hesitate to start eating. And they ate. And ate. I chose to refrain. I’m not sure why. I suppose it was a moment of restraint and discernment in my childhood…perhaps the only one I ever had.

The next morning, my mom got a phone call from my friend’s mom. The other guys were throwing up…and what not. The edible and incredibly hard to find greenery from the night before turned out to be nothing special at all, and apparently somewhat toxic.

Living in a Digital World

I don’t live in Delightful anymore. I live in the city…or at least something more like a city. I have something like seven trees in my yard. And to my knowledge, my kids aren’t eating anything that’s growing there. But I sense that their experience is similar to mine. It’s just in a digital world.

Every once in a while, I see something like that patch of greenery from my childhood. It presents itself to my children as safe. Even healthy. But tomorrow morning, or the morning after that, what if I wake up and see a sort of sickness has come over my children? What if they become numb? Or lose their sense of wonder? What if they grow up too soon? Or not at all?

Not everything that’s dangerous is going to look like a wolf in the woods. Not every threat is obvious. Sometimes the dangers look leafy and inviting. Sometimes they promise the nourishment of entertainment, community, or convenience. Sometimes they look like they’ve done good things for those around us.

But the problem with technology, the new playground, is that our children don’t always see the dangers in front of them for what they are. And sometimes those dangers look leafy.

I don’t think the answer is to make them stop exploring the woods altogether.

Into the Woods

Go with me again into those woods of Delightful. Something in me went off like a siren that evening when the guys were eating. “This is stupid. I’m not interested.” I can’t point to what it was. I can’t remember applying any cognitive processes to my decision. It was just a gut reaction. No. I’m not interested.

As parents, we can’t keep them out of the woods forever. Some of us will keep them out longer than others. Some of us will try to bury our heads in the sand on this. However we feel about it, our kids will be exposed to this digital playground, with all of its opportunities and all of its threats.

The Problem with Technology

It’s up to us to show them that the problem with technology is not that it’s evil. It’s that it’s impulsive. And wisdom and impulse rarely go hand in hand. Impulse saves us from having to plan ahead, process emotions, set expectations, or show restraint. Wisdom, on the other hand, slows us down and keeps us from consuming what’s toxic.

It’s up to us to show them that if they’re never quiet, they can never learn to hear still small voices.

It’s up to us to help them know who they are so that they won’t let others try to make them someone else.

It’s up to us to be an example. To show them that they don’t always have to be plugged in. And that life is actually better when they aren’t always plugged in.

It’s up to us to believe enough in them that we won’t be lazy with this.

It’s up to us to guide them in their adventure and exploration.

It’s up to us.


Written by Andrew Hofstetter