Kids, Stress, Technology and BUFFERING?
Our bodies are designed to live outside, moving constantly, with very little noise and external input distracting our brain. Once a year MAYBE a stampede of animals would go by and cause a ruckus or a group of travelers might come through. The thought of living in one place with only familiar faces, eating the exact same food, and doing the same activities day after day, seems immensely boring to me. But it always helps me to remember that our brains and bodies were not designed to handle the level of excitement and external stimulation we get today. What is the cost to our kids of this extreme level of input coming at us 24/7 video games, TV’s, social media alerts and advertisers, all promising MORE EXCITEMENT for a slice of our attention?
Kids show us how they are feeling through their behavior. Parents, noticing their kids stress levels rising, are wondering what is causing so much stress and how they can help?
Modern life creates an unnatural environment for kids. Asking them to sit on hard chairs inside four walls with people they don’t have intimate connections with, is an automatic stress. We want them to listen to someone else’s ideas the majority of the day, keeping an eye on the clock, always looking for the next blast of input. The absence of down time, time to connect with other people time, time to create and get lost in the imagination, time to explore nature and be in the body is unnatural for kids. Time to be inside our own heads without external input allows kids to process the stress of the day and feel refreshed and ready to learn.
We can help our kids by encouraging buffering, to prevent buffering. (WHAT? One word – two meanings – too much fun!)
Just like the spinning wheel on your computer, kids need time to “buffer” or process all the input they’ve taken in during their day. If you have too many windows open on your computer, things get bogged down and overwhelmed. Rather than yelling, crying or melting down, your computer takes a pause, refuses to do more work, until it has processed all that is happening. Kids can “buffer” or process their day by talking, walking, riding bikes, skateboarding, staring into space, creating something, any quiet, repetitive, physical activity. Today’s kids might CLAIM that video games and netflix help them relax but actually it creates a different kind of buffering.
The other “buffering” is what we do to protect us from a stressful world. Like padding on the walls, we buffer ourselves from our own emotions and our own bodies so that we can’t notice how stressed we are. This kind of buffering PREVENTS us from processing and keeps us stuck in a loop that’s hard to get out of. If you’ve ever gone on vacation but took a few days to relax into vacation mode, your constant work load or input addictions were creating a kind of buffering for you. Adults use work, alcohol, food, worrying, clutter, busy-ness, any number of things to buffer ourselves from our genuine emotions. Kids, more and more, are using electronic input to buffer themselves from an overwhelming world.
What can you do to help?
Remember that neighborhood park you took them to in preschool? Go there (or let kids go by themselves?) Hang out. It might take a while for them to remember how to entertain themselves. It’s different than going to “practice” where someone is telling you what to do. Celebrate boredom. Let them see you relaxing. it’s painful to step off the grid but keep at it. Just like you on vacation, it might take a few days but eventually you settle in and it feels delightful.
Fake a blackout. Pretend the power went out, light candles and let yourselves be bored together. Tell stories, play charades, or just do nothing. It was eye opening to see how early my family got sleepy without TV entertainment and artificial lights!
Go camping or visit state parks. There is something about being around water, trees, and fire that connects with our primal brain and tells it to relax. I’m always amused to see kids who have trouble paying attention in class, spend five straight hours burning stuff at a campfire pit.
Music calms the savage beast. If you can’t live without electronics, choose relaxing music or audiobooks. It connects with a different and more relaxing part of the brain. Try www.gonoodle.com or simple habits app to use your electronic devices to encourage downtime.
If you see your kids staring into space, don’t interrupt them. That is very valuable time that is becoming more and more rare. Some kids like to process out loud, others need to process quietly inside their own heads. Be open and supportive to either one.