It’s all over the internet this week. A four-year old child in England is being treated for iPad addiction. http://ow.ly/kpXd1
According to various sources, she is not alone. Many young children spend four hours a day playing with electronic devices. Commentary about this is flying around the web like angry birds are flying across screens in the chubby hands of toddlers.
Similar discussions probably erupted with the dawn of the television age as well. And that is why a storyteller wants to pipe up now.
The arrival of television coincided with a dramatic decline in oral storytelling. People stopped sharing live stories in community with others in favor of hours in front of a television. Many people have never heard of storytelling. That is why there was (and is) a resurgence in the art.
Barry and I saw this in action when we went to rural Jamaica many years ago to learn about traditional Caribbean storytelling. Instead of the romantic image of tales told by fires on moonlit beaches, we encountered people getting their stories from glowing boxes in their kitchens. Television service arrived in that part of the country 5-10 years before we did, and storytelling was gone, at least for a time.
Today, we are lucky to live in a time of momentous electronic innovation, making the era of television’s birth, by comparison, a mere blip on the screen of history. And with the brilliant onward march of technological change, comes other sociological change. But I ask you: do we dare lose those things we know while embracing others that we are uncertain of?
Storytelling has been part of human life for thousands of years; it endures for many reasons. A pertinent one here is that oral interaction is important for children’s brain development. (For an online article that mentions this, see http://ow.ly/kr9wk, but do also check out books by Jane Healy for more detail).
Children need to be spoken to. They need to hear words uttered by human beings. Words soaked with emotional content, words that have meaning. Telling live stories can give children what they need. It strengthens their connection with the teller, with language, with humanity, and with other listeners. Storytelling matters.
It is my fervent hope, whether parents allow young children to use electronics or not, that they make time to talk to their children, sing to them, and tell them stories. Looking into the eyes of children as they listen to stories is a visual vortex more engaging than the dazzling digital delights of an electronic gadget. They will feel the same way too.
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