I recently read this post, thanks to the many people who are tagging it on social media:“Reasons Today’s Kids Are Bored at School, Feel Entitled, Have Little Patience, & Few Real Friends”. As I read it, I found myself thinking, “ah ha, absolutely”, “well der, of course”, and “I know that”. If you haven’t read it, take a moment to read it now.
After reading it, I sat here at my bench, wondering if parents who parent ‘old school’, are a dying breed? When our kids were little, TV time was once a day, unless I was sick or completely over being at home, and then the time was extended beyond 30 minutes! Instead, we played music and danced. We cooked together. I set up ‘play’ stations all over the house with different activities they could do, moving freely when their minds shifted: puzzles, blocks, drawing, lego, trains, dolls, pasting, dress-ups, etc. They regularly put on concerts together, dug in the dirt in the backyard, went puddle jumping, collected leaves to make pictures and play make believe. We had ‘Fun Friday’s’ each week, where we would do something out of the ordinary. Sometimes it was as simple as covering ourselves with red-dot stickers (that was a big hit when Noah had chicken pox), or more adventurous outings to far-flung food markets, the zoo, or a beach day. On reflection, I really feel I gave my kids a creative, stimulating, play-based childhood that encouraged them to engage with the world around them and develop their social skills.
Yet now, as parents of slightly older kids, they are constantly telling us we are too strict when it comes to technology. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of technology. I am an Apple girl, with several devices that I use regularly for different purposes. I love that I can connect with my family and friends whenever I like, at the touch of a button. I can keep up with their comings and goings on social media, making it much easier to integrate when we visit. Yet I grew up too, making billy carts out of scrap wood, making water bombs out of newspaper, and dragging old tractor tires into the backyard to roll around inside of. My childhood was device-free, and that childhood has shaped who I am now. I know how to balance my choices, because I have lived with and without technology. I can entertain myself staring out a window, or by closing my eyes and daydreaming, because I had so much time to be bored whilst I was growing up.
For our own children, it feels like it is a constant battle-ground as we fight to ensure all the hard work we put in when they were little in developing their creativity and social skills, isn’t lost to the virtual world. Their friends (according to our kids!) all seem to be given free reign to decide how and when they want to use their various devices, yet we don’t. We don’t allow technology at the table, and we don’t allow phones in rooms at night time. Instead, we have a central docking station, where we can easily see who has ‘checked out’ their device and track it down. When they have friends over, we ask them to put their phones in the docking station during meal times and overnight. We haven’t had too many kids who haven’t respected this rule, and those that haven’t, tend not to want to come back anyway. One friend recently said, “I love that you sit at the table and laugh and talk whenever I eat dinner here. My house is silent and no-one talks.”
We don’t have a TV running in the background just for the sake of noise. If we are going to watch TV, it is a discussion we have. “May I watch TV?” “Sure. What would you like to watch?” It’s not a free for all, do as you please, house. We don’t have TV’s in bedrooms. On the odd occasion when we do eat dinner in front of the TV, it is a treat which we all enjoy. We decide what we’re going to watch together, set up ‘camping style’ and enjoy the moment.
We monitor each kids usage (time wise and content) and take electronic devices away when we think they’re overdosing themselves. They are only allowed technology in the car if the trip is longer than an hour (under that amount we figure they can look at the window, read, sing songs or play car games) as well as on planes and trains for long journeys. We like to be entertained whilst traveling long distances too! When we are having conversation with them, we don’t talk to the top of our kids heads, but expect them to make eye contact. We regularly play board games together (this past weekend we tried them out on Party Scrabble. Epic fail. Our kids are far too competitive with each other to decide on a word to use as a team!). We never allow technology in a restaurant. Instead, we have taught the kids several card games, which can go on for hours. Often, the games get so rowdy that we receive ‘looks’ from other diners. Oh well.
We are far from perfect in how we are managing all this technology, and regularly throw our hands up in despair. With four kids, multiple phones, iPods and Tablets, it feels like a constant job. Technology use is by far the most contentious topic with our teens. They feel we are too strict, and that we should let them decide how and when they use it. I always seem to be saying, “I will not raise ill-equipped, unsocial creatures who cannot look people in the eye and have a conversation.” My other common saying is, “We don’t really know what we are doing with all of this. It is one huge, social experiment and it won’t be for another 20 years until we have all of the evidence to support our stance as parents. Now put the bloody phone away!” (Note: I am aware that more and more studies are being published now, showing that the link between a rise in mental illness and technological usage is strongly connected. I am of the personal belief however, that we won’t know the full impact of current technology on our children, until they are well into their 30’s and 40’s and in ‘control’ of the wider job market).
On Sunday, our pastor gave a message on a very relevant and linked topic. Even if you’re not from a background of faith, there is much to be taken from what he shared. In short, he suggested child can be an acronym for the following:
C – Comparison: How often as parents, in particular Mum’s, do we compare ourselves or our children to others? This constant comparison leads to an unhealthy mind and body, creating jealousy that rots our soul. Instead, try thinking the best of others, and being thankful for everything we ourselves have. (See Proverbs 14: 30 for the biblical reference).
H – Help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when parenting. It is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength when we admit we don’t have all the answers. Humans are not designed to live in isolation, yet so many of us try and do the parenting thing on our own, not wanting to admit we are struggling for fear of comparison and judgement. (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I – Identity: Where you place your heart and energy, is where you find your identity. This is evident to our children in all that we do, as they seek to model themselves off of our behavior. (Proverbs 4:23)
L – Legacy: What legacy are you leaving your children with? Is it one that they will hope to emulate one day, or one that they will want to do the opposite of? Leave your kids an emotional inheritance that will stay with them throughout their entire life. (Proverbs 13:22)
D – Discipline: Never forget that you are in charge. You’re not your child’s friend, but their parent. It is your job to correct them, and to teach them, through discipline and love. Don’t shame your children, or lose confidence that you are the adult, but rather work hard to create a home where ‘I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are regularly spoken. Friendship will come later! (Proverbs 19: 18).
For me personally, the ideas he shared are linked directly to how we manage technology in our homes, and how many parents choose the seemingly easier route of letting technology parent for them. My hope for the future is that our generation of children and teens, will revolt. My hope is that they will travel through this current phase of technology over-consumption, and realize how unhealthy it is, therefore choosing to return to ‘old school’ methodology when they raise their own children. My hope personally is that all of the play they did as young kids, and all of the times we’ve said, “no, go and play outside instead”, will continue to shape and mould who they are, as we seek to have children who do not conform to the current ‘normal’. I don’t know about you, but I want to continue to fight against ‘hands-off, technology on’ parenting, and be a vocal advocate for what seems to be a dying breed.