The things in life that bring us the most joy can also bring serious consequences and extreme pain. In the area of technology and parenting, balance and boundaries are key. Here are five ways we can benefit from technology without it running our lives through misuse and over indulgence, or putting our children in dangerous positions they are not developmentally ready for. Much can be gained from our modern access and developments in technology but it is a world that needs to be respected. Prioritizing a real eye-to-eye, in-the-moment human connection with our children first, we can then give them the skills and support to make the best possible choices regarding technology, while preventing unnecessary harm.
1. Model healthy, respectful boundaries with your own cell phone and computer time.
Our children watch us to model appropriate behavior. If my phone takes priority over them, they know it. When children come home from school, that’s the moment when they’re desperate to make eye contact with you. “Step away from the phone.” Some times a mother might never even look up from her phone to acknowledge her child. I do not believe this is from an intentional heart of neglect, or not wanting to give her child what she really needs. It is the cultural reality of how desperately we are trying to connect, and how overwhelmed many mothers are today. Find comfort in real people, the real world, in “real” reality, not “virtual” reality. We are losing grip on the difference between fantasy and reality, and real life is lived in real time with the five basic senses. Bring your self back into today by walking outside and asking yourself, “What do I see? What do I feel? What can I touch? What do I taste? What can I smell?” The most rewarding experiences in life are not virtual, but real. Life is wonderful and horrible, beautiful and painful. Feel it all. Experience it all. Do not try and escape it. Experience life and all it has to offer you, and your children will do the same.
2. Control your child’s internet use with family internet monitoring.
Please do not give your child a cell phone without proper blocking and restricted Internet access in place, I beg you. Children and teens are growing in developmental periods of curiosity. Without proper boundaries and blocking, you are literally giving them an online porn store in the palm of their hand. It is a parenting reality that it is our job to keep our children safe. One tool for you to take advantage of is Norton Online Family. Norton Online Family has many functions to control your child’s internet use, including tools to help with web monitoring, website blocking and restricting internet access to certain times of the day. The service is free and you can sign up at http://onlinefamily.norton.com. Once your children are old enough to be able to use the computer, having some monitoring software such as this gives parents invaluable peace of mind.
3. Talk to your children rationally about how you feel about the long-term consequences of misuse or overindulgence of technology.
Using “I” statements, explain to your children how much you love them and want them to have healthy, safe and full lives. “I want you to experience good things. We just have to have limits to what you can and cannot see and hear. Thank you for respecting that I am your parent, wanting to keep you safe.”
There is no denying the rise in technology has left us with the problems of cyber bullying, stalking, sexting, harassment, embarrassment, computer game addictions, online privacy issues, large phone and gadget bills, not to mention a plethora of inappropriate web material made easily and readily available to the suspecting and unsuspecting eyes of our youth. Homework tasks are superseded by social networking distractions. Children are becoming more and more inactive as they spend more time staring at screens and less time running around outside, and little imaginations are waning, as they no longer have to think up games to beat the boredom. It may be a difficult balance to find: to say what we need, why we need it, to go against culture a bit and stand up for our children’s innocence. I encourage you to be the “weird one” in order to keep your children from experiencing more than they can handle at their age. Many times, conversations like this create conflict, but there is no true intimacy without conflict. Working through conflict and getting to the other side can strengthen your relationship, connect you on a real level and help you to learn from mistakes and be better on the other side for it. Then go outside and throw a ball, walk in the park, swing in a swing set, make a meal, sing a song, read fun and educational books to your children while snuggling on the couch. Make positive memories that involve all five senses and you will not regret it.
4. Unapologetically, take the technology you like and leave the rest.
One mother writes: “There will always be good and bad in everything. Technology does require extra diligence on my part as a parent to supervise the music my daughter downloads or what she is viewing, but there are also a lot of positive things about technology. My daughter can download all of her textbooks, which means a lighter backpack. My Kindle allows me to take hundreds of books with me everywhere I go. Facebook and Skype help us stay in touch with friends and family we don't see very often. The Internet provides access to more information than I ever had access to when I was in school. I think it is important for me to keep up with technology so I can better guide my daughter.”
A father writes: “My son is a seeker, an experimenter, a researcher. He spends hours and hours seeking out info about science on YouTube; not a lot different than the hours I used to spend at the library when I was his age. It's a lot easier at age 15 to use an iPhone for research than to get a ride to the library. In that respect, I'm envious of the information that he has at his fingertips. He's always coming up with fun science experiments for us to try out.”
Some of us love Kindles, some want real pages to turn. Some of us love Twitter, and some of us just want to hear the birds tweet outside and that’s enough. It is a beautiful thing when we can take what we like and leave the rest. This is modeling healthy choices and being grateful for the innovations of society. Every good thing can be taken to an extreme. Let’s focus on cutting out the extremes and finding a healthy balance in the middle.