Saturday, June 15, 2013

Parallel Play

I have heard of times past when the whole family would gather around to listen to the radio together, or sit and watch a TV show together. I don't think that's common now. What program would they watch/listen to, and when would they find the time to do it?

I remember being in school and hearing warnings against excessive TV/video games. "Don't be a couch potato," they said. But that was before computers and Internet...

What would our ancestors say about our electronic devices? Would they be horrified at what has become of the human race? Would they be sad to see us all sitting in a room, each staring at his own device?

But this is the age we're in, and we all have to decide what role these gadgets will play in our life and our relationships.

First of all, what's so bad about gadgets? I feel pangs of guilt realizing that my 11-month-old can already peer up to the tabletop, see that there's a computer on it, and realize that I am engrossed in it. What is going on inside his head? What connections is he making? Is the computer an evil device that distracts his mother, or an interesting box that plays music, or a magic shiny thing, or what?

On the OTHER hand, what about if he is playing on the floor, and I'm just reading a book, as equally engrossed as with my computer? Or what if I'm reading my Kindle? Should I declare "Mommy's READING" all the time so he knows that it falls under the "intellectual" category? Am I neglecting him in any of the above scenarios, or are we just engaging in "parallel play," as they call it?

What about the "olden days" that we tend to glorify? Maybe in the evenings or on weekends, the family members would all gather in their sitting room. Someone might play an instrument while the others listened (okay, I'll admit I'm thinking of Laura Ingalls Wilder here). But at other times, each would have his own hobby: reading, sewing, snoozing, whatever. And that was okay, too.

My question is more about the social aspect than about how electronic devices affect an individual's development. How does "parallel play" affect our relationships, and is it any worse than reading together, for instance?

My husband's family often watches TV at mealtimes. While it is not what I have been used to, there is no indication that this habit interferes with communication. They are as close-knit a family as any, and the programs may provide for stimulating discussion, or just allow everyone to relax after a stressful day at work.

In my family growing up, we rested on Sunday afternoons. Instead of a formal sit-down meal, we had a sandwich buffet which we enjoyed at our convenience while trading sections of the Sunday newspaper. Of course, intermittent sharing of thoughts and discussion of plans could be observed as well. I don't think these conditions harmed our ability to develop close relationships as family members. Maybe it even helped us relax, more so than a formal environment.

Another question I have is where in the home technology should be used. Would it be more polite for a person wishing to "zone out" to go to another room, where the computers, in general, should be housed? And when rejoining the group, leave such fancies behind? Or is it more friendly to remain together in the same room, if a bit distracted? Of course, this is assuming that the luxury of separate rooms can be found.

As I thought about this topic, I realized that our generation's situation is not so hopeless. The enjoyment of electronic devices and even paper media do not necessarily prevent communication in real time with real people. But so far I am a bit unclear as to what the particular boundaries should be, if any.

(And I will say again that I think the question of individual use is another story, as far as addiction, bad habits, questionable content, children's learning, etc.)

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