Sidney+PoitierI am busy reading ‘The Measure of a Man’ – a spiritual autobiography, by Oscar award winning actor Sidney Poitier and this extract in particular stood out for me, especially from the viewpoint of parents trying to raise their children in an overstimulated image-assaulting society. He grew up on Cat Island in the Bahamas and later moved to Americaland and so he speaks here of some of the contrast and expectation and this is just some good stuff to think about and probably especially if you are a parent of a young child.

‘But the special beauty of Cat Island wasn’t just what we had; it was also what we didn’t have. Poverty notwithstanding, I was lucky, and the reason I was lucky was that I wasn’t bombarded with contravening images and influences that really didn’t have any direct connection to my nurturing. I didn’t have to digest television – children’s shows and cartoons. I didn’t have to digest the stuff on radio and have to ask, “What are they saying? They’re talking about selling me something. Why are they selling me something? I don’t have a job.”I didn’t even have to deal with the myriad stimulations that came from the presence of mechanized vehicles. No one on the island had so much as a car or motorboat.

Now, if you take children in the modern United Stated that you and I are living in, they probably have a mom and a dad [or at least one parent], a set of grandparents possibly, and some siblings. But they’re also going to have a radio in the house, and they’re going to have a telephone (or at least know that such a thing exists], and they’re going to know that there are television sets, and they’re going to see people on the television sets who speak just like their mom and dad speak.

And they’re going to be familiar with motion pictures too, because they’ll start going when they’re five or six. They’re going to see talking animals moving around like people. They’re going to see animals beating up on each other and slapping each other and falling down in crevices and getting up without experiencing intense pain. Some of these animals are then going to turn around and sell them breakfast cereal. These kind of stimulations come at today’s American kids on a daily basis, but the mental and emotional apparatus for sifting through them, for processing them, for dealing with them in some meaningful way, simply isn’t there.

But children still have to try to make sense of everything they’re bombarded with. They have to assume something, correctly or incorrectly, factual or otherwise. They have to encode all these distractions into the self that they’re slowly day by day, building. Child psychologists have demonstrated that our minds are actually constructed by these thousands of tiny interactions during the first few years of life. We aren’t just what’s directed by our genes, and we certainly aren’t just what we’re taught. It’s what we experience during those early years – a smile here, a jarring sound there – that creates the pathways and connections of the brain. We put our kids to fifteen years of quick-cut advertising, passive television watching, and sadistic video games, and we expect to see a new generation of calm, compassionate, and engaged human beings.

In the kind of place where I grew up, what’s coming at you is the sound of the sea and the smell of the wind and your mama’s voice and the voice of your dad and the craziness of your brothers and sisters – and that’s it. That’s what you’re dealing with when you’re too young to really be counted into anything, when you’re just listening, when you’re watching the behaviour of your siblings and of your mom and dad, noting how they behave and how they attend to your feedings and how they care for you when you have a pain or when the wasp stings you around the eye. What occurs when something goes wrong is that someone reaches out, someone soothes, someone protects. And as the people around you talk, you begin to recognise things that are carried on the voice. Words and behaviour begin to spell out something to you. All those subtleties are what’s going on with you, and that’s all that’s going on with you, day in and day out.’

If you’re a parent are you doing anything to interrupt the overstimulation of your children? Technology timeouts… Television boundaries… Limits to screen access… And if you have not been, is this maybe something you want to or should think about considering?