Don't watch the holidays

Many small, face-time interactions are the main ingredient for long-term mental capacity.

By Jim Montague

When I was a few years younger, I could go from task to task to task without a break. Now that I'm slightly older, I need a 15-20 minute break after every two or three or one job, depending on its difficulty and complexity.

So, at the end of another year of chores large and small, professional and personal, I more than understand the desire to "chillax" and finally catch one's breath. Of course, this can be yet another challenge. Especially during holiday seasons that seem to get more frantic with each passing year, it can be hard to carve out a little downtime. A rousing football game or nap during the annual viewing of It's a Wonderful Life shouldn't be denied to anyone that needs it. As the now-ancient Beasty Boys rapped so long ago, "You gotta fight for your right to party!"   

However, just as there's always one more item that someone forgot to buy at the store, I'd recommend performing one more little task when you wake up refreshed—get the kids out from in front of their screens.

I remember Scientific American ran a lengthy feature article several years ago on the hazards of too much TV and passive computer time, especially on the development young brains. I believe the latest headline involves parents in Silicon Valley realizing the possibly detrimental effects on their toddlers of spending too much time glomming on tablet PCs, no matter how enriching their programming, and limiting their exposure. Ironic, since many of those parents no doubt develop the software that appears on those same devices.

Consequently, if you're lucky enough to be hanging out with kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews this holiday season my advice is do and make more, and watch less. Genuine experience is far more immersive and memorable on more mental and physical levels than even the most high-definition screens. You know your own group's face-time activities better than me, but some candidates could include: 

  • Mix and bake the cookies, rather than just serving and eating them.
  • Flip the morning pancakes, eggs, bacon, etc.
  • Teach the older kids to make gravy and carve, so they can be big shots, too.
  • Load the dishwasher with the little ones before they realize its drudgery. They might even appreciate laundry, though I know—too much of a long shot.  
  • Treat that last-minute trip to the store like the special mission it is. Enlist young helpers/consultants and have an actual conversation on the way.
  • Conspire to buy something outrageous, delicious and unauthorized because it's only once a year.

All these little interactions aren't much on their own, but I believe their cumulative effect can be very powerful and long lasting. Most engineers and other technical professionals are keenly aware of how much they rely on their mental capacity and critical thinking skills. Well, those abilities don't come from nowhere, and they need careful nurturing and encouragement in younger generations if they're going to flourish in the long run. I think those interactions are the main ingredient.

I say all this knowing that restricting the screens is a losing battle. Younger parents tell me every kid they know has an Xbox, PlayStation or both, and they all want more of the games that run on them, such as Minecraft and Fortnite. So maybe learn to play them, too?

I remember my nephew used to enjoy repeatedly chopping me in half with some kind of electrified axe in an Xbox game, while I was still trying to learn how my armor worked. Later on, he and my daughter got an even bigger kick, when I took them bowling, and failed to break 100 on the last ball. Embarrassing, yes, but just another good holiday, vacation or weekend activity that isn't in front of a mind-numbing screen, while one's head sits atop a set of unused, atrophying muscles and bones.

Of course, all these real-world tasks are messier and take longer when kids are involved. However, that's the way it always is with rookies, whether they're in-home or on the plant floor. However, patiently encouraging and teaching them is the best investment we can make both in their future and ours.

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