Monday, September 8, 2008
Spinning Jenny Stimulus - Part II
TOO MUCH STIMULI
Now even if we ignore my previous dramatization of restricted literature and spinning-jenny hyperbole, and consider my childhood in a more general way, the lack of stimulus that I’ve been muttering about becomes fairly evident.
Think about it. How much stimuli does a child get from direct instruction by “one” teacher? In a wee school that houses grades 1-9 for a grand total of 23 students? How much stimuli with no visual media players, very few books, no musical instruments, and no playground equipment outside of a bat, a ball, and a swing?
And, how much stimuli with only eight colors in the crayon box? And no field trips, library, music-room, gym, cafeteria, or study hall?
Sparse, compared to today’s children who are bombarded on all sides by stimuli in every possible format. Endless books and stories. Endless paraphernalia, including talking books, boxes of 156 colors, games, puzzles, computer-assisted learning, field trips, gyms with great honkin’ boxes under the gymnasium stage of sports equipment of every description. And a large outdoor playground with ball diamonds, football fields, hockey arenas, etc. and indoor space for volleyball, basketball and gymnastics.
But that’s not all. My grandson is six months old and his world is already alive with stimuli. He is already entrenched in a world swirling like a spinning jenny with visuals, sound, and motion.
His toys are a rainbow of things that move, and sing, and bleep, and pop. The floor jumper he sits in has artificial palm leaves overhead. And spirals, beepers, and spinners that leave him virtually unseen and unheard when he is in there. So much motion and sound that he can’t think or even concentrate on his own sweet esoteric language. Or enough quietness for him to practice parsing a gentle “coo”.
His play pen has another equally intricate conglomerate for him to kick with his feet. And his highchair has interchangeable place mats wildly colored with letters and cartoon animals. His soft toys play surf and bird-sounds. His other toys beep and spin and blink lights. His potty-chair talks and sings. His quilts and sheets are a dizzying array of more colors with textured critters designed to look three-dimensional.
And I can see already that with each passing year it will get worse as he reaches the age of e-pods and video games and interactive television. God, where and when will it stop?
Grandson is little but as little as he is, already his mom notices a special calmness when he is here. He plays in an old ancient walker (I know they’re illegal because of safety concerns but with the wheels missing, this one ain’t going anywhere).
The walker has a plain, dull beige, tray. He strokes it with his little hands affectionately. And when I put him in there, he is absolutely content with his sucky and a small plastic bowl from my kitchen cupboard to rattle against it. It takes time but he is clever enough to eventually get the soother tucked in the bowl. And already he knows that if you can’t dig it out, you tip the bowl and it falls out.
He loves that game. He holds up the little bowl to proudly show me how he has melded the two into one conglomerate. And then again to show me how skillfully he has separated them.
And he settles down for naps on a plain bed with a plain blanket without blinkers and tooters. And he lies on a thick folded quilt on the floor near the window and giggles with glee at the shadows cast by swaying leaves against the curtains and the glass. And he chuckles out loud at the puppy strolling past his locale.
So then, in my bleary mind I start thinking about the ever-escalating rise in child-behavioral problems. Children are more anxious and more and more unable to focus for the slightest extension of time on one thing. So I have to ask, “Why do we worry so much about the psychological damage of corporal discipline while ignoring this toxic soup of stimuli that might be equally, or even more damaging?”
We’ve simplified our ideologies to what suits us. Sterilize everything, stop spanking, and stimulate children with flash-cards, Bach or Mozart, travel, visuals, and gizmos, and they can’t help but grow up healthy, independent, and stable-minded.
Yet childhood behavioral problems continue to rapidly escalate. And among the host of possible causes, no one considers that maybe our modern-day spinning-jenny stimulus is just too much. Maybe the enigma of all that research and no fixed conclusion is because at the root of it all is something that was never considered. And truthfully, don’t researchers in childhood behavior have a hand in propagating more noise, color, and motion?
In this bleary mind of mine, with the solace and peace and repair that I get from quiet times—alone and undisturbed—I wonder if maybe the real cause of child behavioral diseases is simply too much stimulation.
As a child, in our home, Sunday was set aside as a special day. Don’t laugh. Just because God is dead doesn’t mean we can’t discuss other aspects of the Sabbath.
Sunday was today’s equivalent of ‘time-out’. There were no spinning jennies on the Sabbath. No sports. No work. No active frolic. Just resting, reading, and relaxing, and time for self-reflection. Sunday was a day that demanded hushed household quietness.
So maybe, just maybe, in the midst of all the paraphernalia of today’s world, we would be well to return to that kind of time-out. (But can we do that without our children interpreting it as a disciplinary move? As something to feel pained about? Even dejected and hurt?)
NEXT POST: Conclusion