Our sitcoms (back then) vs. their social networking

By Anne Collier

Our teenage screentime was very different from our kids’ screentime. Sure we have some nostalgia for family TV viewing because it’s pretty much a thing of the past, but does that mean family togetherness is? What about the equally lightweight but higher-frequency connecting we do with our kids via text messages? The family gaming some of us do on the Wii or Kinect, in online social games, or World of Warcraft? What about the unprecedented insights we get on each other’s thoughts, friends, and lives in Facebook? Then there are the old-fashioned, in-person opportunities we do and don’t take advantage of as families, depending on how busy everybody is.

Opportunities for communing and communication haven’t gone away, they’ve just changed *and* proliferated, and all of it’s competing for all of our attention as well as family time practically 24/7. USATODAY recently ran an article citing the view of an Iowa State University professor who studies media effects on children, saying that “texting, Facebook and video games are not inherently bad. Nor are they inherently better or worse than watching TV, although they do pose different risks, such as cyberbullying.” Sure screentime can displace homework time, but sometimes homework is done with friends and resource Web sites on that screen. The thing we all need to think about is the quality of the attention we’re giving people or whatever we’re doing in a given moment: doing homework, listening to a teacher, having dinner with family, hanging out with friends online or offline. Is it fleeting and flitting all over the place or focused? Which is ok right now? Should what we’re doing have our full attention, for our sake or for others’ (out of respect for those who want or deserve our attention)? Full attention – whether to a teacher in class, a family member needing help, friends texting us in a fun fast-paced chat – does a lot of good things, offline and in digital media. It can show respect, help us learn and remember, calm us down, comfort others, deepen friendships, improve grades, etc., etc.

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