Crossing the line – Fun vs distraction

Alan White New

Alan White

We all have an innate need for fun. Sometimes we can forget this, especially during busy times in life. Fun means something different to each of us and the things we do for fun can be as varied as reading to parachuting out of an aeroplane. However no matter what we do for fun, it’s important to make time in our lives to do something that brings us joy.

In fact fun is a need that must be fulfilled as part of a balanced approach to positive well-being. Just like connecting with others, having fulfilling relationships, achieving personal goals, as well as the many other things we can do to help maintain our mental fitness.

But have we crossed a line from fun to distraction. Fun as we know is an enjoyable experience. For an experience to be enjoyable it must be something we love to do. It can also be something that we build into our daily or weekly routines as well as something we do occasionally, like going on a nice holiday. For many young people, fun is using technology to watch TV or connect with friends. It’s clear to see that the social lives as well as private lives of teenagers are focused around their phone. They watch TV and movies on them, listen to music, chat with friends and so much more.

This is a wonderful technology unavailable to the previous generation and I have spoken before about the dangers of not managing this new way of interacting with the world can bring. A lot of what I write about here is based on what I encounter on a daily basis. It’s not a once off or strange event that captures my attention, but it’s unfortunately, the growing concern of distraction.

Young people are becoming consumed by the ease in which they can continue to chat with friends or watch videos, on a personal and completely private platform. I regularly chat to students who arrive into school every day with black circles around their eyes, barely able to stay awake, never mind perform adequately in class. When I ask why they are feeling so worn out and tired, very often they will eventually admit, sometimes with relief, sometimes with reluctance. That they are awake until two or three in the morning chatting or watching something on their phones.

I don’t need to tell anyone that a severe lack of sleep is detrimental to the cognitive development, physical development and overall mental well-being of children and teenagers. Have we all become so distracted by the deluge of information, entertainment and general distraction we have available to us today, that we think that this is ok? There are a myriad of things that I could talk about in relation to what’s happening, but I want to focus now on distraction. What should be a fun outlet for all of us, has become a debilitating distraction, especially to our young people.

Children and teenagers need boundaries. If they are left to their own devices, both literally and figuratively, they will not self-regulate and why should they? It’s not for a child to know better! If a child is not given a routine with boundaries, they will continue to engage in activities that are destructive to their well-being such as staying up all night messaging with friends at a cost to their physical and mental well-being. They are living in a world of distraction, and although it may be more difficult than allowing them to be distracted, children need guidance and boundaries around this distraction. This will allow the amazing things that are available to all of us these days to remain fun, without becoming dangerously distracting to the point where our health is being compromised.

Young people need a lot of sleep to allow both body and mind to develop fully. Sleep deprivation, together with overstimulation, can lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt, low mood and low self-esteem. All of which will lead to difficulties with mental well-being. When young people get caught up in this circle of staying up all night, it will lead to deeper negative feelings about themselves, the lens through which they see themselves will become so distorted that they may lose any sense of their real selves.

To protect themselves from these feelings, students will stop trying at school. If they don’t try after all, it’s not their fault if they don’t do well. This can lead to school avoidance and early school leaving, which ultimately lead to negative self-worth. This can then lead to many damaging things such as addiction, inability to form mature relationships and many more.

So while we are all being distracted, this is happening to many of our young people. It’s tough to watch as a teacher, so many young people with endless potential fall victim to this distraction culture. We can do a lot in schools to give young people the boundaries they need, and in fact appreciate though they may not admit it. However it takes every responsible adult parenting and carers, to implement a balanced boundary approach to young people activities.

We must remember, all of us, to have fun. However when the fun becomes dangerous to our well-being, it’s time to re-evaluate and reflect on what is fun and what is distraction.

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