Monday, February 25, 2008

YouTube Leads to Sleeping on the Floor

Do you enjoy sleeping on the floor? I don’t. But I can do it if I comfort myself with the thought that when my ancestors had to sleep on the floor, they didn’t have comfy carpet for cushioning.

From time to time I find myself sleeping on the ground with nothing between me but my sleeping bag, my (relatively thin) foam pad, and a tarp. But that’s not like sleeping on the floor, because, for one thing, there’s no carpet. There’s also no adventure. The only real reason I sleep on the ground nowadays is to support a youth activity that aims to help youth have some kind of adventure. Short of that, my own bed will be just fine, thank you very much.

Where was I? Oh yeah, sleeping on the floor. I have spent significant portions of the last two nights sleeping on the floor, thanks to YouTube. How was YouTube responsible for two nights on the floor? It’s kind of a funny string of events. And it has a lot to do with parental oversight.

Just before leaving to attend a family wedding out of state the other day, my wife handed me a 10-paragraph list she had typed up of things that were to happen while she was away and how those things were supposed to happen. Good wives do those kinds of things. She had given each of the five children their personal responsibilities. Now I was getting mine.

Then my wife made an alarming discovery. The fifth grader had to build a diorama about Rhode Island. Somehow the fact that it was due on Monday had gotten lost in the shuffle, so it needed to be completed over the weekend. After delivering this news, my lovely bride kissed me goodbye and headed off for the kind of fun that I can only say that I was more than happy to miss out on.

Looking down the schedule, I could see that the first time we would get to work on the diorama would be Saturday afternoon. And then, according to the schedule, it had to be done by Saturday evening. With five kids ranging from 16 to five — each with his/her own schedule, wants, and responsibilities — our place can be pretty darn busy. So, even the time block we had for building the diorama was filled with various child shuttling events.

As soon as we got started on the diorama, it became clear why these kinds of tasks are usually my wife’s responsibility. For one thing, if something has to be built by hand and you want it to look right and function well, you do not want me involved. That is not an area wherein the Lord chose to bless me with much talent. My plan was to make the fifth grader figure out everything. Of course, that only goes so far if your middle child is like my middle child.

My son had already done a lot of research on Rhode Island, so I asked him what was important about the state beside the fact that it was the smallest state. OK, so it has the nation’s oldest Baptist Church in Providence and the nation’s oldest synagogue in Newport. What else? Well, it has the world’s largest silverware factory and a deep sea fishing industry.

Having lived his entire life in a land-locked state (and not being able to remember having seen the ocean when he was younger), my son had no idea of what deep sea fishing looked like. So I pulled up YouTube and searched for videos on that topic. After watching a couple of short videos, we returned to the project. After hours of long struggles, my son finally managed to put together a somewhat passable diorama. It looked like it was made by a fifth grader. If I had applied my hand to it directly, it would have looked like it had been made by a second grader.

I had not realized how captivating my son found the videos on deep sea fishing. He was soon back at the computer watching video after video of various deep sea fishing adventures. Over the period of 20 minutes, he kept yelling, “Dad, come and look at this!” Which I dutifully did again and again. He would say, “Look at this 400-lb fish,” and “Check out this hammerhead shark.”

Anyone that has spent any time on YouTube knows that there is always a list of links to videos that someone has classed as similar. You really don’t know what you’re going to get when you click on one of those. My son soon had me watch a short video that featured a variety of bizarre looking sea critters. It was more weird than scary, but you know how kids’ minds work.

While I was busy with my daughter for about 10 minutes, my fifth grader got his second grader brother to the computer to watch the video of the strange fish. Then he clicked on a link to another video. The two young boys soon found themselves watching a video that had a creepy depiction of a supposed ghost. And then they watched another short scary video. That was when I returned to the scene.

I was not happy. I know that kids can be curious, but my fifth grader should have at least known enough not to let his little brother see scary stuff like that. My seven-year-old has a very active imagination, and he was officially freaked out by what he had seen.

A few minutes later when I had all of the children together for our evening devotional, I explained what the boys had done and what was bad about it. My kids were a little shocked when I explained that creepy media content like that is similar to pornography. It fills your mind with unrealistic images that are intended to excite certain regions of the brain to elicit unnaturally strong responses.

And, boy did it work that way this time. Neither of my younger boys wanted to turn off their lights when they bedded down. The only way I could get the seven-year-old to go to sleep was to repose on his floor until he was dead asleep. Of course, by then I was asleep too. I woke up sometime later and groggily got myself to bed.

Then last night at bedtime, we had a repeat of Saturday night. The seven-year-old has bunk beds in his room, so the fifth grader came in and slept on the top bunk so that neither would have to spend the night alone. But they wouldn’t go to sleep without me being there. So I slept on the floor for a while. I might have made it several hours had not a neighbor had the gall to call at some unearthly hour (for me anyway, because I get up quite early) to ask about something that was totally not urgent.

This whole experience goes to show that even a conscientious parent (with Internet filters and the whole bit) has to be very aware of their children’s media content consumption. Since you can’t be with your children every moment, you have to teach them how to deal with bad content and hope that they follow your advice. You can’t control everything that goes into your child’s mind, so you must teach them how to filter content themselves.

At least now I’ve got the second grader to help. He is our ‘informant.’ I’ve never seen such a reliable tattler. Computer use for the fifth grader is going to be on a probationary basis for the next little while. I am greatly looking forward to my wife returning from her trip. She has a talent for soothing the kids to sleep, so I may not have to sleep on the floor again tonight.

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