A Family Connected Can Be The Least Connected
Don’t sit so close to the TV. Get off the phone. No more games. Go outside and play! Our parents said these things to us, and now we find ourselves saying a new version of them to our own kids.
Our children have new challenges to face. This is the first generation to grow up truly immersed in an electronic, information rich, highly accessible world. We are putting electronic tablets, iPods, and cell phones in the hands of our kids, at home and in school, and then telling them not to use them. Mixed message? Of course.
We are expecting our children to moderate their time spent immersed in the world of electronically amplified imagination land, while at the same time we are modelling behavior to the contrary by spending our time immersed in our own electronic worlds.
This is Not Our Parents’ Parenting
Many of us are Gen-Xers. We are facing a challenge of our own. We are the in-between generation. We are the generation that grew up at the birth of electronics and have witnessed their evolution. Our parents faced very similar parenting challenges to those their parents faced, and had their parents to use as guides. We face challenges in parenting that are brand new. We have to simultaneously discover, pretty much by trial and error as a collective community, the proper amount of electronic emersion to allow our children, while empowering them with its use. At the same time, we have to battle our desire to be immersed in the same world, although perhaps in a different corner.
Our children learn from us in many ways, and they do not respond to “Do as I say, not as I do” any more than we did as children. If you are failing to live “Do as I do,” then what impact do you hope to have on your children?
One of the best ways to teach our children is to model the behavior we expect of them. Telling our children to hang up the cell phone, put down the controller, and to pause their iPad while we bury our attention in Facebook and other social apps is not effective. Being an adult does not give us license to be hypocritical. It gives us the responsibility to be good leaders. Being a parent makes it critical.
Putting in the time and effort as parents to do the right thing day after day, minute by minute, helps our children grow up to be responsible, independent adults. It also helps us work out the flaws and kinks in our own character and behaviors. We have the opportunity to learn as much by being leaders for our children as they learn from us.
How valuable do we feel personal interaction time is with our children? How valuable is it to our children to learn that personal interaction is more important than virtual interaction through electronic mediums?
We have to prioritize face-to-face interactions with our children and for our children. They have to see us model the behavior we want them to exhibit as they grow up. If we do not put that stake in the ground, then we should not be surprised when our children carry on important relationship conversations via text messages. Or when our children shy away from eye-to-eye contact when having in-person conversations.
Electronics have a powerful draw. They are accepting. They are endlessly engaging. They are incredibly convenient with smartphones and tablets. There is the safety of displacement and anonymity. Just as people find safety and empowerment behind the wheel of a car to act completely differently than they would face-to-face, so do people when they go online. And online, if there is a conflict of any kind, you have the power to disengage and not face the consequences of your actions. We get to watch full-time and only speak up and interact when it feels safe. People are much more complicated and demanding. Direct human interaction is much more challenging, and ultimately, much more rewarding. Without leadership from a parent, imbuing a proper hierarchy of importance in human interaction, our children stand little chance to resist virtual assimilation. This is especially the case during years of social vulnerability.
A friend mentioned a church sermon where the minister spoke about the fear of missing out (FOMO). He was not speaking to the children. He was speaking to the adults. The virtual world is as compelling for us as it is for our kids. Many of our generation check Facebook and other favorite social apps religiously out of the fear of missing out on something. On a daily (and hourly) basis, how important are those somethings? If we are honest with ourselves, I think we will all agree that we do not get enough benefit out of the instant gratification of always being socially “in the know” to justify the dedication we give to our devices.
The hard road for parents is enforcing an intentional plan to have your kids disengage from the virtual world and develop their in-person skills, and not to do it with a smartphone “binging” with alerts in hand. The hard road for kids is getting up and going out the door to engage the world when there is a smart device within arm’s reach to play games, make calls, or text with their friends. Both difficult journeys lead to the same place, and are worth it.
Teach your children about the virtual world. But teach them how to engage in it responsibly and safely. Although they may be teaching you how to use apps at an age that seems much too early to put them in the driver’s seat, they still will not have your experience in dealing with people. Finally, model the responsible behavior you expect them to demonstrate so they can follow your lead.
This is your opportunity to teach your children about the real world. Teach them how to introduce themselves with a firm handshake. Teach them to look someone in the eye when saying “Hello!” Teach them that communicating with virtual devices takes a distant second to communicating one-on-one and in person. Throw a baseball or Frisbee with them. Take them on a hike or to a museum. Most important, teach them by example.
In ten years, when you look back, what is going to be more valuable, being fully engaged with your screen filled with virtual “keeping up” or being fully engaged with your kids during their growing up years? What will be more meaningful for your kids?
Put down your tablet. Pocket your phone. And interact with your children as if it means their future. Because it does.
Bryan Carter is an author, business owner, father, and husband. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi with his wife Shelley and two beloved children, Jack and Emma.