The speech pathologist held up a mirror in front of the toddler-aged girl and asked, “Who’s that?”
The blond-headed child, perched on her mother’s lap, did not respond. Her sky-blue eyes never looked up from the smartphone.
The examiner tapped on the mirror again and repeated the question. The trance briefly interrupted, the girl turned the phone around so the animated kitty could see itself in the mirror. “Meow,” it purred.
Her mother smiled. “She loves to play with kitty.”
Was this incident just a lonely child playing with a make-believe friend or is it a sign of something more serious?
In my recent article for One Christian Voice, I touched on three specific things you can do at the beach to improve your child’s strength, balance, tolerance of touching sand, and vocabulary. Things such as digging a hole, building a mountain, and imagining stories.
I feared the activities I highlighted would be too basic and elementary. However, the response I received has affirmed it needed to be written.
Many of the young parents I interact with are more comfortable with a virtual world than the real one. They Google answers instead of thinking on the topic themselves. They order Alexa to turn on the music or turn off the lights. They can’t even tell you how to get somewhere because they just sit back and wait for their GPS to tell them where to go. They don’t handle real money.
So when this little girl seemed to have a stronger emotional bond with a virtual kitty than she did her mother, I took notice.
Has this little girl ever petted a real cat? Does she know how to react when the cat hisses or swats at her? Can she protect herself from real threats such as that?
Has she ever walked barefooted on the sand and felt the cool water envelope her ankles? Has she ever spun around on a tire swing or climbed a magnolia tree and enjoyed the sweet smells of the blooms? Has she ever caught a lightning bug in her hands and felt warmth each time the tail lit up?
In other words, does she interact in the real world? Or does she prefer the sterile virtual world men have created?
God designed us to feel and touch. The largest sense organ in our bodies is our skin. Our skin senses hot vs. cold, light touch vs. firm, sharp vs. dull, and smooth vs. rough. We experience the pressure of a reassuring hug, the sting of a slap in the face, and the comfort of a pat on the back.
We associate these sensations with emotions. Some are comforting and others are not. We learn about pain and danger through real experiences. We learn to persevere and keep swimming despite having sand in our swimsuit. We keep running the race and ignore the pebble in our shoe. We forgive the one who slapped us in the face.
The danger of the virtual world is its sterileness. It is clean, slick, and cold. It holds no depth or emotional connection. It isn’t real. The minute the power is lost, the kitty disappears. Poof!
Parents and grandparents, keep your child connected to reality. We are to “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” That training includes living in God’s real world with its difficult people, boredom, and sand in our swimsuits. The virtual world is merely an illusion.
You’ve got a few more weeks of warm weather so take your child to the beach. Imagine yourselves invaders from Mars. You must dig a hole to hide your spaceship and then dig a trench to hold water to drink. And, somehow you must design a way to filter the salt out of the water so it is safe to drink.
And please, leave virtual kitty at home.
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