Information Overload Called Harmful
By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News
August 18, 2005

PROVO As the ease and comfort of the information age plays out in the developmental lives of American children, at least one local psychologist worries their drive to face challenges, make good choices and achieve great things is on the decline.

Dr. Lynn Scoresby told hundreds of people attending Education Week at Brigham Young University on Wednesday that one manifestation of a righteous life is the desire to create, achieve and build on the successes of the past.

Yet he sees a growing number of young people who have yet to face any serious challenges in life or learn to work hard. Many are so engrossed in video games, movies and entertainment that they have failed to develop the social skills and moral character necessary for successful marriage and family life, he said.

Scoresby said recent studies show that 87 percent of American children ages 8-12 have access to the Internet, and the average age of their first exposure to pornography online is age 11. While porn has serious negative effects on children, he said, what is more troublesome is the information overload many children are exposed to online and with other types of media.

When continually bombarded with high quantities of information, the human brain at some point "can't tell the difference between (gospel) knowledge and mere information, and from there, between information and what is true. At that point, gospel truth is perceived on the same level of reality as a video game."

As an example, while serving as a bishop in his local ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Scoresby said he interviewed a 16-year-old girl who ended up having sex with a boy she had dated only once.

When asked why she had done so in light of gospel teaching at home and church to avoid premarital sex the girl responded, "Honestly, I didn't even think about it." Scoresby said the girl had no concept of what it meant to say "no" and could only understand the consequences of her actions in hindsight.

"The Book of Mormon (and its teachings) are at risk of being put on par with the information in someone's Internet blog, and kids are treating them the same" in terms of seriousness, he said. " When you see kids being casual about what we believe are the most significant truths of all time," he said, that's when church leaders come to know that many youth don't understand moral choices or the consequences involved.

Many church leaders are now seeing serious problems among teens who "spend much more time with machines than people," even though gospel lessons, moral character and social skills are all learned from interaction with others. "People can't believe you can form an emotional association with a machine, but you can," he said.

Some teens have incorporated the Internet and digital cameras into a habit of sexually deviant behavior that is then triggered not by other people, but by the machines themselves, he said. "Wise parents regulate the amount of time kids spend with machines."

A societal obsession with money and material possessions has so infiltrated many homes that parents now hold school teachers accountable if their children don't get the grades they will need to get into the right university. Academic honesty and true learning become the casualties, he said.

Broken marriages, a misunderstanding of true love as opposed to sexual satisfaction, and a lack of personal integrity among parents and within institutions also translate into a lack of desire for meaningful achievement among children, he said. One survey of people who have achieved great things showed some common characteristics among them, including:
  • A major childhood challenge that had to be overcome.

  • Belief in and the ability to follow an "inner voice."

  • A belief that achievement for its own sake is more important that material or other rewards.

  • A belief that the process they follow to achieving things is as important as the achievement.

  • A willingness to persist at something difficult when others give up.

  • A willingness to listen and learn from others.

  • A quest for constant improvement in the way things are done.

  • A strong sense of responsibility for themselves and their actions.
Children who lack the desire to achieve also show common characteristics, including a willingness to cheat ("80 percent of Utah school kids cheat on a regular basis"); avoiding things that look challenging; choosing a path that requires the least amount of effort; pleasure-seeking; erratic achievement; a fear of emotional intimacy and a tendency to push others to make a commitment so they don't have to, he said.

Stress and difficulty can be great teachers if parents can refrain from constantly paving the path for their children, he said. In many instances the best response to childhood complaints is a simple one.

"Work harder."

(edited by David Van Alstyne)
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