By Christina Bagaglio Slentz
Has our “connectivity” left us disconnected?
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us onto our screens more than ever. In many ways, our Internet connectivity was critical to maintaining “near normalcy” in business, schoolwork, and geographically distant family relationships. Yet many have increasingly turned to the Internet for everything, exchanging real-world connections for digital ones. Researchers have found, the more people are on screens, the less they understand themselves as part of nature, a state some are calling “nature deficit disorder.”
Even before COVID, Pope Francis called our attention to the way this disconnectedness distorts our perceptions of reality, giving us an artificial sense of control through technological means and obscuring our awareness of God in our daily lives. Relatedly, when we are sucked into the virtual world, we lose touch with each other and are less present in the moment. We forget that we need each other — like those times when we forget to bring water for the journey. Our digital connectivity leads to a “disconnectivity” of the human spirit. Untethered from our common home, we forget that we are brothers and sisters.
Re-connecting in Creation
With the official end to the pandemic recently declared, perhaps it’s a good time to examine the less-than-optimal habits that may have crept in during this unusual era. With school out, children’s screen time can easily get out of hand. How can you take a break from the virtual world and reconnect within your family — your domestic Church — nourishing love between family members at home as well as love for those who share our common home with us?
The natural world helps us to disconnect from electronics and reground ourselves. As the papal encyclical “Laudato Si’” instructs us, the sense of wonder and awe require us to slow down, giving us time to appreciate the goodness of the world, and return us to harmony with God, our neighbor, and the earth that connects us. Immersing children in the natural world is also credited with reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep and fitness, and promoting confidence.
Getting away from the electrons!
Here are a few tips to guide your effort at disconnecting and reconnecting:
- Encourage outside time gently. Simply enjoying dinner outside can be a positive injection of creation time in the day. Start more adventurous activities gradually. Avoid giving the impression that time in nature is a punishment for too much screen time.
- Be intentional about planning your family time in nature. Hand-in-hand with this idea is being more proactive about putting parameters on time in the digital world. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a media plan might be right for your family. Visit https://bit.ly/3O21JV5.
- Add family, friends and food! Try picnicking at a favorite spot. Let each member of the family choose his or her favorite location. San Diego boasts fantastic beaches, parks and mountain tops. Don’t forget to say a prayer of gratitude before beginning the meal.
- Grow something — in your yard, on a windowsill, or in a pot on a balcony. Children can learn alongside parents, and both get the benefit of growing in confidence, working with nature to nurture new life. For a real challenge, start with seeds.
- Try a hike. San Diego features hikes in both rural as well as urban areas. You can find the 10 best hikes for kids in San Diego at https://www.alltrails.com/us/california/san-diego/kids.
- Be prepared! Always carry water and sunscreen. Pack healthy snacks and extra layers of clothes. Make sure everyone has good footwear or proper equipment. If you will be away from populated areas, have a first aid kit in case of injury.
The gift of creation is just waiting for you and your loved ones. Be sure to give thanks and talk about the importance of caring for God’s creation with your little ones when you are out there! And don’t forget to take pictures of all the fun memories you will make.
Sidebar: ‘I remember feeling peaceful’
A Cristo Rey San Diego High School diocesan student-worker, Atziri Iñiguez, offers the following reflection on hiking with her family:
“My family and I enjoy adventuring, going on hikes in Cowles Mountain, exploring some of our favorite trails like Torrey Pines and Los Peñasquitos Creek. When I was younger, my mom would bring snacks for the way and remind us to bring water, but usually someone would forget their water, which was why we started taking extras! On the trail, I always enjoy seeing the different plants, flowers, animals, clouds even. I have good memories of taking time at the top to rest and to enjoy the view; I remember feeling calm and peaceful listening to the birds chirping. When the pandemic struck, however, we were mandated to stay home for our safety where our only source of entertainment was on a screen. As a result, our social time as a family was more and more limited.”