Tired of only seeing the top of your kid’s head every time you’re at the dinner table or in the car? Wondering what text conversation could possibly be more important than a family dinner or some one-on-time with Mom or Dad?
Conservatively speaking, we’ve now had about a decade of societal saturation with cell phones and computers. Ten years ago, some parents were still debating if they needed the internet in their homes, and whether schools should be integrating computers into their curriculum. How quaint.
When my kids were small, it was Super Mario luring them away from riding their bikes and wrestling. I fretted over studies that said if I didn’t limit their screen time my sons would grow up stunted and fat, emotional cripples who would live out their lives in a dark room staring at a glowing screen, and that room would probably be in my basement.
Fast forward ten years, and the reach our children has is extraordinary. The world is literally in their hands, and that world, in turn, can send grappling hooks right into their developing brains. But I’ve noticed a subtle change in the response of parents. Back then, stymied parents admitted their children knew far more about computers than they did, that they were at a severe disadvantage because they were struggling to learn something their children had always known. They wanted to curb their kids’ enthusiasm because they didn’t share it.
Now, you’re upset that your kids are addicted to their electronics, but they’ve probably learned from the best: you. If you take calls outside of work during time you’re spending with your children, you’re still at work. You are not with your children. If you’re chasing your timeline on Facebook or Tweeting while you’re kids are in the room, they know exactly what matters most to you.
Don’t think that if you’re all watching a show you’re exempt, or if you’re walking along a street. Your primary focus is elsewhere, and they know it. We interact with our kids on many different levels and taking in the world as they process it requires you to be there with them, not randomly engaging between calls.
Sound harsh? It’s meant to. I’m indicting myself as well. I flinch when I see another person wheeling a stroller down the sidewalk, yakking away on a cell phone. It’s great that you take your kids to the park, but if you’re sitting on the sidelines with your nose buried in your phone, who are they going to be yelling, “hey, look at me!” to? And they do yell that and you yelled that and kids are supposed to yell that. And you’re supposed to be looking.
Car speakerphones are awesome, but the only thing that comes across to those with you is there are other people who are getting your attention. Once in a while? Sure. Every time? It’s up to you. Don’t think I’m only talking about toddlers and primary schoolers. Your teen might need those unoccupied gaps in a conversation, those lulls in the car, to finally bring up a difficult subject. If you’re always busy or distracted, there is never a good time. They will find someone to listen; you might not like who that ends up being.
I don’t know many people who haven’t been sucked into a vortex of wasted time on the internet, either on occasion or regularly. Our kids are no different, except they are even more suggestible than we are. You can lay down all the rules you like, but they will learn by watching you.