“Men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be.”- George Orwell
Midway through a hockey game I was coaching about a month ago, our players hit the proverbial physical wall. Though it was only the first game of our usual doubleheader and the players had been in school the entire day, the energy was completely gone. There was no urgency or sense of direction whatsoever, this coming from some very athletic children who I never have, and hopefully never will, refer to as lazy. We called a timeout to try to get them re-energized, and it worked, to a degree. A few minutes later, my assistant coach said under his breath, “It’s the X-Box Syndrome.” “The what?” I responded back to him. Then he went on to explain this wonderful phraseology. He has three children, one of whom was on the team, so he was qualified to bestow the X-Box Syndrome as what was plaguing us that evening. The results of such a disease? A sometimes, but not always, prolonged mysterious and sudden loss of physical strength, energy, and/or concentration due to the constant playing of video games and not enough physical activity, regardless of the build and body type of the child or children in question. I have yet to take any psychology classes in college, though they will probably be coming in the next semester or two. I am not saying I am qualified to analyze a child’s behavior and give you a medical diagnosis, but as a coach and teacher who has been in different classroom atmospheres for the better part of seven years now, I am indeed qualified to talk about the X-Box Syndrome. Cue the dramatic music.
Think about it; think how after-school activities have changed in just the last ten years or so, these beginning from the moment a child comes home until he goes to sleep. They eat a snack and do any homework assignments, and then, is it time to go outside and shoot a basketball, or maybe run around the neighborhood with friends? No, it’s time to plop down in front of the video game system of your choice—the X-Box title of the disease is just a placeholder. Electronics are wonderful technology, but if not monitored correctly, they have accomplished nothing but turning children’s brains into jelly. When they are not sniping enemy soldiers in Call of Duty or scoring goals in NHL12, they are probably playing Angry Birds on the iPad, or checking their Facebook or browsing the internet on their computer or phone. Remember the days when it was special to own a cell phone? Where you would see people get a call in public and stand up and talk really loud so everyone could see they owned a phone? Well, those days are long gone—five-year-olds have cell phones now.
The result of this constant sitting and staring has developed a hindered attention span in children, and the inability to articulate simple words and phrases. I have had the pleasure of meeting some very intelligent and well-spoken children in the various places I have worked, and those that have impressed me beyond words. I have also had the opportunity to encounter children, and now, young adults, who cannot say more than three words without inserting, “Uh”, “Um”, or “Like” somewhere in their sentences. This is not during public speaking mind you, where everyone, and I mean everyone, has the ability to freeze up and babble like a moron, but in simple conversations with teachers or amongst themselves. Class periods in schools are growing shorter and shorter because children cannot pay attention for a longer period of time. Neither can they sit still for longer than a half hour, before they get up and wander aimlessly around the classroom, or taking an extra-long route to the garbage can or bathroom. Just wait until they get to college a few years in the future, when the time they must sit grows from forty minutes to nearly three hours. Perhaps some of them will improve, through outgrowing their inability to function or even with medication, but most will continue their bad habits. Do I have trouble sitting through these lectures? Of course, as does most everyone. But is a forty minute class on the elementary, middle, or high school level just a drop in a bucket of water? Absolutely.
The earliest vivid memories I have of schooling start in fifth grade. Not to say I do not remember anything prior, because I do, but I can remember actual conversations, events, any important items from fifth grade on, where I will assume that our memory truly starts to develop into what we will have for the rest of our lives—again, just an observation, not a medical diagnosis. When I was that age, I do not remember writhing around in my chair like I had a bullet wound in my chest and needed a doctor, when having to sit through what were 45-minute classes, nor do I remember my friends having to walk around every half hour; group projects were also limited. We also never heard the terms ADD or ADHD back then either. It seems that everyone has a touch of it now, most needing medication to perform just the simplest of tasks. I could go on and on about how it is probably just a medical conspiracy to make money by convincing desperate parents that they need medicine for their children to be normal, but I will not. The fact is, though, we have become dependent on medication in all facets in our lives. To go off topic for a moment, why diet and exercise to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure when you can just pop in a few pills? Why try to make your work area more clean and quiet when you can take something to help you concentrate? Just load up on pills, and your little, and now bigger, angels will be fine.
Communication has suffered the most as a result of the X-Box Syndrome. Who actually talks to anyone anymore? Why bother calling when you can text? We’re all guilty, probably 95% of the United States, but as convenient as it is to our lives is as dangerous as it is to a child’s development. They do not learn to talk and ask/answer questions, nor do they learn proper grammar when they do text or type something out. There is no need to learn spelling anymore, because when they type something wrong, they can just hit spell-check, or their phones will just auto-correct a wrongly spelled word. When it comes time for school and writing, yes, with primitive methods such as a pen/pencil and paper, there is no auto-correct, and they fail miserably. We might as well carve out a tombstone with a R.I.P Spelling and Grammar etched in darkly at the top, because as far as I am concerned, we as a human race have peaked out in our abilities to write and think critically, and nothing but a downward spiral can and will ensue.
Even when we read, we are now reading books that have been downloaded onto technology, more staring at screens and missing the action of actually flipping through pages. Reading out loud in a classroom also has its kinks. Children come to a word they cannot pronounce, and rather than sound it out (like we had to do when I was in school), they quickly skip it and continue the sentence. No one ever seems to even bat an eye at this. But if I am in a classroom and my students are reading and they do this, I call them out on it. Not in a rude way, but in a helpful way. I’ll say, “No, you’re not skipping that word. Sound it out.” If they do not do this, then I will say it out loud and make them repeat after me, which they always do, realizing that damned little word was not so difficult in the first place. My, what you learn from actually trying. This is all because no one has to worry about spelling or pronunciation. They usually know what the word means, but who cares how to spell it or say it, because auto-correct once again saves the day.
There is no way to fix this besides getting rid of or limiting technology except when absolutely needed, such as for safety reasons or an emergency, but that is obviously never going to happen, as we will only welcome more technology into our lives and grow even worse. Attention deficits will continue to skyrocket, as will autism because of all the chemicals in our foods (we’ll save that for another time), while grades and intelligence will decline. Once again, this is only an observation of the majority, that I think most adults in the education/child development field will agree with, because there are always exceptions, and instances where we actually feel happy and impressed with the way a child acts, or how he functions in school. I am lucky to have experienced this, but with positives always come negatives. The creativity in a child, I am convinced, is still definitely there—it is only a matter of tapping into it. If you can do this, perhaps you will open up their mind. If not, it will only slip farther and farther into oblivion, never to be recovered. The future is in our hands, as those my age grow older and start to have kids of their own. Will we let humanity continue on this path to inevitable self-destruction, or will we put a stop to it? The answer and results are literally in our hands, as only we have the power to change it. Forgive me for the pessimism, though, but do you think this will really happen? Will we improve and learn from our mistakes? The answer is unfortunate and depressing…a resounding “No.”