.

Screened.

I. The Phony Mom

a true story

Her phone, in hand above the stroller,
Blocked her baby from her view.
She held it like a game controller,
Adoring every pixel’s hue
As mothers not so long ago
Adored their babies just for being.
What more could phony glow bestow?
What could she possibly be seeing?

Seeing this mother strolling by,
Her child neglected and alone,
While her keen maternal eye
Is fixed and focused on her phone,
I’d toss my phone into the sea
Before I’d snub my family.

.

II. Boyhood Joys

It used to be that little boys
Would sword-fight in a field with sticks,
Or shoot tin cans off walls of bricks,
Or clang Mom’s pot lids for the noise,
Or, in their rooms alone with toys,
They threw tin soldiers in the mix.
Back then, before the age of six,
They knew the range of boyhood joys.

Today, instead, they stare at screens
With pixel pictures built by ’bots.
Their toys are glowing, colored dots;
Their thumbs move shapes in ersatz scenes,
And by the time they reach their teens,
The screens control their waking thoughts.
Those little cyber-gaming sots
Have spent their boyhoods with machines.

Yet, if we took the screens away,
They’d soon return to normal play.

.

III. The Vacant Playground

a pantoum

The playground’s occupied no more
The wind blows sand against the slide
No playground chatter like before
The swings are swaying side to side

The wind blows sand against the slide
The ladder’s rusting bit by bit
The swings are swaying side to side
The wooden picket fence is split

The ladder’s rusting bit by bit
No hands now touch the sliding poles
The wooden picket fence is split
No balls are kicked through soccer goals

No hands now touch the sliding poles
No parents calling children’s names
No balls are kicked through soccer goals
The children won’t play screen-free games

No parents calling children’s names
No playground chatter like before
The children won’t play screen-free games
The playground’s occupied no more

.

IV. Today’s Families

a triolet

Thumbs swipe on screens; kids blindly stare
As parents lose themselves in phones,
Enticed by their bewitching glare.
Thumbs swipe on screens; kids blindly stare.
Are they aware their parents care
When phones turn them to media clones?
Thumbs swipe on screens; kids blindly stare
As parents lose themselves in phones.

.

.

Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in the Asahi Haikuist Network.


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32 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    These poems are a direct indictment of modern culture that has become the slave of technology. From the kids to the parents, all are guilty of deserting the things that made us healthy, realities of life with direct interactions, and disappearing into the shadows of the mind concerning things that really matter. The moral of the stories is clear. We have lost so much.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Roy. It’s true, we have lost so much, and when we want to go back to the real world, we often find it as vacant as the playground in the poem.

      Reply
  2. Mary Gardner

    Joshua, thank you; I enjoyed these. The four poems display your talent and versatility while holding the reader’s interest.

    Reply
  3. Sally Cook

    Your poem addresses one of the most problematic and damaging aspects of today’s sterile culture. All the things children did in the past they are no longer doing, things that stretch minds and bodies are becoming irrelevant. Parents are caught in a perpetual adolescent mindset. How can they help their kids when they are so badly in need of help themselves?
    Thank you so much for opening this badly needed discussion.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      You’re welcome, Sally. Someone had to open it.

      It’s so true, about parents being caught in a perpetual adolescence. I’ve heard parents say that having children was the one thing that really made growing up worth the sacrifices… whereas sacrifice seems to be a foreign concept to many of today’s parents. And then everyone’s surprised when the next generation is even worse. I don’t even want to think about what the young people will be like when I’m old!

      Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    Excellent poetry, but such a depressing topic.

    The mother with the stroller and the kid in tow while she’s using her phone is quite a usual scenario where I am, as is continually having to swerve out of the way of screen zombies on the streets and in the malls.

    I found your pantoum extremely poignant, but being of an age, ‘Boyhood Joys’ really strikes home.

    Thanks for the reads, Joshua.

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      ‘Yet, if we took the screens away,
      They’d soon return to normal play.’

      These days, your kids would sue you for taking their phones away!

      Reply
      • Joshua C. Frank

        Sadly, this is true, unless you wait until they’re old enough to introduce them to those things in the first place, as determined by when they’re able to exercise the virtue of temperance in other areas of their lives.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        But there still is hope for the rest: there exist digital detox camps where parents send their phone-addicted children for some time away from all things digital, and I hear they work…

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Paul. I’m glad you enjoyed them. It is a depressing topic, but someone has to call the world out on its addiction to screens.

      Seeing the mom staring at her phone instead of her baby was what made me decide to break the addiction myself; I decided I didn’t want to be like her someday when I have my own children, even if I had to throw my phone into the ocean (I lived near San Francisco at the time). I love the image of “screen zombies,” it really works. That would probably make a good poem…

      The activities listed in “Boyhood Joys” were things I did myself as a boy. This was back in the 1980s and 1990s, before the Internet took off. I had tech toys too, but my mother made sure these were a small part of my day (she didn’t let me watch TV until I was 7, and I think that was really a good thing for me). I played outside with my dog, went to the playground (the basis for “The Vacant Playground”),

      Reply
      • Joshua C. Frank

        went to the beach, and even went horseback riding. It really was enjoyable, much more so than anything today’s children experience in the digital world!

  5. Brian A Yapko

    Josh, this is a quartet of very fine poetry, all of which are variations on the theme of technology usurping healthy relationships, healthy living. Your observations are keen and indeed distressing. It’s great to see you really branching out into different poetic forms. I’m particularly struck by “The Vacant Playground” which is a depressing commentary on what it’s like to be a modern kid. I feel sorry for children today who have cell phones and video games instead of flag football, catching frogs, running barefoot through the grass and staying out all day with friends until it gets dark. I would gladly go back in time to a date before we had the world wide web, smart phones and all of these pixelated distractions. In fact, anything before 1914 looks good to me.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Brian, for all your compliments. I remember doing all those activities as a child myself… I, too, would love to go back to sometime before 1914, in a rural area, like in the children’s classics.

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    These are four good poems about a plague that has afflicted modern life for the last three decades or more — those horrid little electronic rectangles that seem to dominate the minds and attention-spans of nearly everyone.

    I wrote a poem about them, which can’t be published here because of the nasty language. In it I referred to these things as FLHHDs (pronounced “flids”), which was an acronym for “F—–g Little Hand-Held Devices.”

    One minor point: in the third poem, the use of the word “anymore” is somewhar skewed. “Anymore” is always conjoined with a word of negation (“He won’t do it anymore,” or “We can’t get linen sheets anymore.”) It seems to me that the first and last lines of the poem are trying to say “The playground’s not filled anymore,” but the lines are awkward as phrased.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Joe. I’m glad you like my poems.

      I would say “horrid little rectangles” have dominated nearly everyone’s minds and attention spans since television became popular. But your point is still good. Would your poem still work if the expletives were bleeped out for publication here?

      As for a positive “anymore,” I use it all the time, and apparently it’s accepted in large areas of the United States, but not all: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/10206/should-anymore-be-used-only-in-a-negative-statement-or-question#10263

      To make it more universally accepted, I had it changed. It would be a shame if someone didn’t get the full effect of the poem over such a small thing.

      Reply
  7. Jeff Eardley

    Joshua, a chilling indictment on modern tech that is slowly frying the brains of our youngsters. I worry about the curse of Tik Tok where only yesterday, I read of a young chap who nearly died after swallowing magnets, whilst taking part in an online “challenge.” Your highly readable work should be on the lips of all educators, but most of them seem to be addicted as well. Great to read today thank you.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Jeff. It’s true, it is slowly frying young people’s brains… and, as you point out, those of their so-called “educators” as well.

      TikTok is Chinese-owned, and I’ve heard a rumor that it’s one of their ways of corrupting America’s youth in order to weaken us against Communism. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it turned out to be true, because if that’s the case, it’s working very well.

      Reply
  8. Margaret Coats

    All four are good, Josh, and the triolet very good of its kind. I thoroughly enjoyed “Boyhood Joys,” knowing that some boys, even by the age of six, are not yet ready for school. They have no learning disability; they are just late bloomers who will do fine schoolwork after they get enough of the real development that happens in serious playtime. Screenplay robs all children of that important part of their lives. It may also permanently infantilize them, making them susceptible (even as adolescents or adults) to the perverse control of others, whether by screen or through schooling. Homeschooling can go a long way toward allowing a more natural development by first delaying and later limiting screen usage, but once the screens are in hand, there probably is some point where taking them away will not work because the damage is done. I hope someone is experimenting with remedial psychology. Some older children who skipped the crawling stage before walking are now being taught to crawl, because having that simple motor skill actually improves mathematical ability.

    I agree with Joseph Salemi that the pantoum, good as it is, would be much improved if you could revise so as to solve the “anymore” problem. “The Phony Mom” also has odd expressions in “toss to sea” and “snub away.” There I’d suggest

    I’d toss my phone into the sea
    Rather than snub my family.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Margaret! As I mentioned elsewhere, “Boyhood Joys” was based on my own childhood activities.

      That’s fascinating, about how screen use causes children to miss out of important developmental stages and permanently infantilize them. That explains a lot about the younger generations. I got my first smartphone at 27 and struggled with addiction (the story behind “The Phony Mom” was the only thing that made me decide to get away from that); children don’t stand a chance. I’ve read that the American Pediatrics Association says that children shouldn’t be using screens until at least age 12 (that’s not a typo, and that estimate is probably too low). I would say not until they develop the virtue of temperance in other areas. One of many, many reasons I plan to homeschool mine! (Dr. Matt James wrote a book called A Homeschooling Odyssey; he homeschooled his children in an hour a day after work on the subjects that needed his attention and let them pursue their own interests in other hours.)

      I’ve fixed the lines in question.

      Reply
  9. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree that these are fine poems on a very important topic. I especially liked the imagery in “The Vacant Playground “.

    Reply
  10. Cheryl Corey

    All of these poems are very spot-on. Part of the problem is that even in small towns there’s been a loss of neighborhood schools. When I was a kid we always played on the school grounds. It was a place to run, jump rope, and play on “monkey bars”. Too many people are addicted to the phones, and it’s been well-documented how young people go berserk if their phones are taken away!

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Cheryl. That’s a good point; I fondly remember playing at the schoolyard near where I lived. As for the last part, sometimes parents have to be tough with their children if they truly love them and want what’s best for them.

      Reply
  11. Alena Casey

    These are nice poems, Joshua. I enjoyed the variety of forms here.
    My husband and I are switching back to flip phones this week. It’s going to be an adjustment, and a very good one. I don’t want my kids seeing me staring at my phone all the time.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Alena. I’m sure the rest of us would love to know how you both decided to make the switch and what led up to the decision.

      Reply
  12. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, in this series of poems, with the ingenious title “Screened”, the modern day world’s dilemmas arising from this technological age are captured in all their horrific glory. I am certain that many will recognize themselves in the lines of these vivid portrayals and reel with shock. Your poetry has the creative ability to tap into the present zeitgeist and rip it apart with a message that touches the heart and taps into the mind with a razor sharp precision that will hopefully have all those parents looking at their phones engaging with their families instead. Very well done indeed!

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Susan, for all of that. It’s always nice to see your comments. I hope and pray that someone out there reading this series of poems decides to make some changes in favor of family togetherness.

      Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      I thought you and anyone else reading this would like to know: someone in an online group who saw this recently said, “I celebrated these verses by taking my kids to the playground. We gathered pinecones and threw them into the creek, watching the water carry them away. Thanks for the reminder to look up.”

      Reply
  13. Joshua C. Frank

    For anyone interested in raising children without screens: https://www.screenfreeparenting.com/

    My mother chose not to have television until after I was 7, and she and I both believe it was quite beneficial. I never just sit down to watch on my own; I watch as part of a social thing when others are, but that’s the extent of it. I’m involved in far more fulfilling hobbies—poetry, for one, but also reading, fiction writing, music (I know how to play piano and guitar), drawing, and more. I don’t think this would be the case if I had spent my early childhood staring at a screen instead of reading, doing arts and crafts, and doing the activities mentioned in “Boyhood Joys.”

    Reply
  14. Patricia Allred

    Joshua, Congratulatins on a well-desrved win.. we are kin souls, as we both are keenly aware of the loss
    technology can bring. I have penned many poems on the same topic! So I am glad you.emphasized this screen addiction on the young.there are children wh have cellphones, but in no way live on them. Parents must monitor their use. They still play outdoors, maintain high grades,are in private schools and love the Bible, adults are addicted to life on screen, their
    ability to communicate is limited to the max, I find even to communicate on the phone terrorizes them.
    Abd screen families sit in their living rooms, each with thief own device. Talking to their dog, but not with one another? I see this at family gatherings , too. , teenagers are particularly at risk, I grew up before TV and these times. So for me, I feel I am on another planet. I totally enjoyed all three, Joshua,,you awesome, sensitive man and poet.

    Reply

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