Monday, September 8, 2008

Spinning Jenny Stimulus - Part II


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


Pauline said...

Working in a second grade classroom cram-jammed with things, noise, and confusion on a daily basis, I know firsthand your argument that children are overstimulated at every turn. I have only to come home to my wee, quiet cottage to know peace and find time to replenish my depleted stores of patience and inner harmony. We label our over-stimulated kids as ill or unbalanced and then treat them with drugs when what's needed in most cases is less doing and more being.

Scotia said...

My goodness, I do believe you've hit it right on the head. I can't possible express how much I agree with this overstimulation issue. Having started my life with a minimum of electronics, and now having a life absolutely chock full of them... I see the difference, and I feel it, too.

No wonder I feel the need to just turn everything the heck off a couple of times a month and just have quiet. There's a reason people "get away" to "destress."

Cowtown Pattie said...

Interesting observations,and I think we all agree, parenting in this brave new world is strange.

Recently I overheard a mother and two teenagers in a bookstore. The mom was in hog heaven at the discount shelves and the daughter was already poking her nose into some vampire book. The son was visably miserable, shuffling from one foot to the other complaining that he was ready to leave.

"You know I don't read," he whined. "Why do we need to spend an hour here?".

Mom mostly ignored him, with a slight nod of "I know".

I couldn't resist; turning to the nonreading young man, I jokingly told him that if he resided at my residence, he would be expected to bring a book to the dinner table or go without a meal. That I had convinced the world's worst nonreader - my stepson - into at least reading a book every couple of months or so for fun, not just school. Explained I started him with War of the Worlds.

The mom never acknowledged me at all, kept perusing the shelves, thought I think I caught a "hmmm" and the teenaged boy finally just huffed and turned away.

Unsolicited advice is about as welcome as a case of the shingles.

Roberta S said...

pauline, with your teaching background I was quite amazed that you are that much in accordance with another one of my wild and wooly theories. Thank you for that insightful comment.

Roberta S said...

scotia, i was tickled pink to see you come for a visit. It's been such a long time.

Thank you for your supportive comments.

I think your comment about de-stressing is important. Probably more important than we realize.

Roberta S said...

hi patty. yes we do walk a narrow thread when it comes to handing out advice. Which often leaves me wondering where our moral responsibility for others begins and ends. I often feel caught in that quandary.

The comment you made to the boy in this circumstance was okay no matter how it was received, in my opinion. I thank you for taking the time to tell that little story. It is probably indicative of many kids and families.

Dick said...

With you every step of the way so far, Roberta. Looking forward to the denouement!

Roberta S said...

Thanks for stopping in, dick. Very busy around here right now, but I will finish this up very soon. Hopefully today.