Friday, July 06, 2007

Poverty of Spirit

My oldest son is hard at work this rainy summer afternoon. He is writing out a complete index of all the entries in his Animal Encyclopedia by hand. His younger brother is seated beside him, concentrating intently on his own project-- he is drafting and illustrating little "handbooks" with titles like How to Use a Stapler, The History of Wood, and Human Body Parts and How they Work. I'm not so sure these reference materials will prove all that handy when they've finished, but it seems to me a better use of time than watching cartoons or playing video games. Besides the basic handwriting skills, they are practicing concentration, proper punctuation, categorizing and alphabetizing, and they're learning how to give clear instructions-- or attempting to anyway.

We've never suggested that they do such things and we've certainly never modeled such odd hobbies; these are just the sorts of things children do when their imaginations are healthy, when their lives are not scheduled for them to the very minute and when they don't have unlimited access to media entertainment. These last two are most likely a cause of the first and are very simple to provide--just don't over plan your children's lives and don't let them watch endless television. It's very simple. My husband and I jokingly call this principle, "Formation by Deprivation," but of course it isn't really "deprivation" at all.

A recent trip to the ER constrained us to a whole day of unguarded television watching and it convinced me of two things. First, almost everything on Nickelodeon is stoo-oo-pid. Second, if given the opportunity, my children would do nothing but watch Nickelodeon all day... all summer long... drifting in and out of sleep-- the blue light of the television screen shining gently on their anemic faces. I am not ashamed to deprive them of that experience."Formation by Deprivation" is just a fun expression.

Maria Montessori has a more serious take on it when she speaks about the simplicity of the learning environment and how a certain poverty of the senses disposes us to contemplation.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

It struck me, many years ago, how this poverty of the senses allows the imagination to thrive. The mind's eye is like the body's eye also in that it can be "burnt out" so to speak if it stares directly into a light that is too intense. Oftentimes movies, television and video games designed for older children overwhelm the younger child's imagination and can impress too much upon it so that the child is unable to imagine beyond the characters and actions of the television he's seen--much like the green sun spots that blind us when we come indoors after being overexposed to outdoor light.

Left to their own devices and encouraged by the gentle light of carefully selected, age appropriate books and media, children's imaginations thrive. The child who isn't distracted by the excessively appealing television junk programming that is marketed to him is more likely to take interest in the less animated, less action-packed world around him. He will contemplate and process the real world more readily and it is in those experiences that he will discover immortal truths. It is while considering the beauty of the natural world that he will see God's goodness, and in pondering the gifts of His creation that he will better understand his own place within it. (Do not miss that link)

In these ways, the child who is "poor in spirit" will come to understand more and more the ways of God... and that is to begin to inherit His Kingdom.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful post. I couldn't agree with you more re: depriving a child of TV/video games, etc. My husband and I recently attained "Parents of a Teenager" status and subsequently implemented the "Amish Diet" as a form of consequence when necessary for attitude infractions. We don't allow much TV or electronic paraphenelia anyway, but when put on this diet, our teenage daughter has NO access to TV, computer (unless necessary for schoolwork), video games, CD player and the like. It is amazing what a day or two being deprived of these items does for her. She becomes absolutely delightful to be around again! She helps with the younger ones without being asked, she helps in the kitchen for fun, and has long chats with me about her day. This is not to say that TV does not have a positive place in our lives at times, but it certainly makes for a more positive teen/parent relationship when it is off.

Kristen Laurence said...

Beautifully written, Suzanne! Such an important reflection for today's child. I am so grateful not to have television.

Johane said...

Guilty as charged. Mind you, we don't watch Nickelodeon or its canadian equivalent. We tend to watch Discovery Channel and PBS (not the kids stuff) and CBC News.

It's kind of funny to listen to the kids say to their dad "We saw how a lightbulb is made dad! First they..."

While there are no limits to how long they can play outside, very few to reading (they do have to come out of the book to eat, bath and do their few chores...), the limits on TV are many.

As I said though, at times it can become too much and difficult to manage. I can easily fall into the trap of "TV Babysitter Syndrome", especially on those days where I've had a hard day at work.

Thank you Suzanne for reminding me of something that I have known, yet ignored. I'll have to do something about that.

Beck said...

My kids DO watch dumb tv - and I have to constantly monitor what they're watching AND how much. There are some shows that I find really brilliant (Rolie Polie Olie is WONDERFUL! Oh, and Little Bear.), but I still don't want their summer eaten up by them. Their imaginations still are in fine working order - my oldest couldn't sleep last night because of a thunderstorm and asked me to come up and "read her some poetry."

Aimee said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I am guilty of letting the children watch a smidge too much tv this week, but the most notable thing to me is the difference in their attitudes and behavior when we take tv out of the equation. They are lighter, kinder, happier, more alert and generally much more fun to be around.
Also, poverty of spirit is something that I think is highly underrated and even much maligned in this country. Where do you go when you have everything?

mel said...

Great post. We recently disconnected our cable. It was only basic cable anyway, but it was still being abused and what started off as an attempt at "controlled watching" ended up slowly reaching the point of being on *all the time*. So we finally pulled the plug again. It was a rough couple of weeks, even for the adults in the house. :) But it's amazing how quickly you can adapt to it.

Suzanne Temple said...

I hope nobody understood me to be saying that children should not watch any television at all. I just believe that it should be monitored, and should be chosen, age appropriate material and limited in terms of time used. Parents have different ways of doing that I'm sure.

The way we've found to work best for us is just not to watch television, but use Netflix to select everything we watch, which includes television programs. Between instant watching and four at a time CDs we have plenty on hand, but not too much and it has all been preselected.

As for time limitation on computer games I learned a trick from my sister, Helene, that works great. Computer time is earned here by reading for an equal amount of time beforehand up to half an hour a day.

Incidentally, docking computer time for misbehavior is AMAZINGLY effective.

Cheryl M. said...

Excellent post, Suzanne!

Kelly said...

I couldn't agree more! We do the Netflix thing too and just discovered the "watch now" feature, very cool:) Care to do a post on your fav Netflix picks for your guys?

Sarah said...

"Formation by Deprivation" - LOVE IT (but then, I am one to love catchy names for things...).

You so beautifully express some thoughts I've had about children and TV for years (but have never really had the chance to prove through my own experience because I've only just started having my kids!). And, like you mention in your comment, it's not that kids shouldn't watch TV - we spend plenty of lazy mornings on the weekends curled up on the couch with Daddy watching TV, and it's a fabulous way to cuddle and wake up slowly - it's that it shouldn't be PRIMARY.

Beautifully expressed.

And, by the way, thanks for the link. :)

MommaLlama said...

"Formation by Deprivation", I love that phrase... of course, most people we know just consider our choice not to have a TV/movie on all day as simply DEPRIVATION. Like many here, our boys have seen TV, but it is what we DVR and it consists of show's like 'How It's Made', Animal Planet's 'Growing Up' series, or watching a car show with Daddy (much like Sarah). This way we can skip commercials that always have inappropriate images for children. And these moments are few and FAR between, and only come as some sort of reward (usually).

Suzanne, I love you blog! It is so refreshing to find a family that enjoys the simple pleasures of life!

Mom to Four said...

What a wonderful post! We have the same philosophy. A year or more ago, I drastically cut the TV viewing. I heard some homeschooling talk on CD. It spoke about these children that were vegetables after watching TV. I saw my kids in that even though they never watched more than 2 or so hours a day. After their viewing pleasure, they were little whining vegetables - no spunk, no energy, no creativity. It is a wonderful thing to watch them read and imagine and play when the TV is off for days on end.

Great post - thanks!

Stephanie said...

Dear dear Mom of all those Boys:

I have just discovered your blog, and I want to tell you that you're getting it so very right. My own kids are grown now, and the results speak for themselves these days (in well formed sentences, with great vigor of spirit!)

And we called it Benign Neglect.

annemcd said...

Add me to the list:) While I admit, the kids are watching a movie right now, this is after a great morning, and I'm 36weeks preg. (LOL) I like to really restrict tv viewing so I don't feel so guilty for the times when I know I'll "need" it, and this coming hsyear, I'm planning on seriously cutting back. Once I stopped watching during the day after becoming a sahm, I noticed how much nicer life was. Its amazing how your life can be determined not by "right now" but "after this show is over . . ."

Vicki said...

Once again I agree 100% with your post. We're on summer break, and today I caught my kids four times with the TV on. I would prefer almost anything to TV, including video games. At least they are interactive and the kids plan and discuss what to do. Of course creative play and reading is better than all media.

ryan m. said...

Well done, and well said, Suzanne. Thanks for another interesting post.

We have a computer with a DVD drive, but we got rid of the TV about five years ago. For us, life is better without it. But I don't often talk about it, because people have strong reactions!

mel said...

We do netflix too...more control and less feelings from the kids that they "gotta watch now"!! Those dvd's are there and will stay there until they are ready to watch them. The library is starting to have more tv-show dvd's too. We got Little House on the Prarie the other day. The problem is that it's many hours of viewing and you only have it for a week! So we will have to check it out again...

Gabrielle said...

Beautiful post, Suzanne, and you have captured the essence, in your family life, of cultivating the contemplative gifts of your children. If you are practising Montessori methods, and perhaps are already involved with the Catechism of the Good Shepherd, you are giving your children an environment where contemplation and contemplative prayer will be nurtured and accepted. What a gift you and your husband are giving them for the rest of their lives, through God's grace.

Jill said...

I think the other commenters have summed it up well. But, I had to chime in. I don't know if you can hear too many times that you are an awesome mother to your boys!

Alice Gunther said...

I couldn't agree more, Suzanne!

Great post!

Love your new banner image too, btw.

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle said...

What a beautiful post, Suzanne! And I have to say that your new photo at the top is stunning!

God bless!
Donna

Jamie said...

Great post, thank you Suzanne, I also agree with you 100%.

Margaret in Minnesota said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret in Minnesota said...

What could I say that would add to either the wisdom of this post or to the commentary already made?

Other than bravo, mon amie.

I am grateful for every single mom & dad who limit their children's exposure to the television...and I am dismayed at the thought that there are kids still watching so darn much of it.

Most of it is just plain stoo-oo-pid, as you say.