When it comes to kids using technology there seems to be two schools of thought – there are those who caution us not to let our kids use mobile devices too much and there are those who let them go for it. I’m somewhere in the middle.
I think a lot of our social concern with technology is really just dealing with a symptom, technology itself isn’t the cause. Kids (or spouses) on mobile devices is not the cause of breakdown in relationships – the lack of engagement and connection with people in our physical space is. As a society we are getting more individualistic, which means we will choose what we want to do at this moment, not what is best for someone else. This of course, plays out in the issues of technology, but I doubt technology itself is the cause.
Technology is a tool and we can use it for good or bad, we can control it or we can let it control us. The choice is ours. When we forget that we have these choices, we start to fear technology – we see it as the bad guy, when really it is our selfishness at heart that we should be blaming.
I believe these issues are here to stay – technology is going to become more and more a part of our life and unless we walk away completely and go off grid we won’t be able to ignore it. So how is it going to affect your family? We need to think these things through. Our parenting and our family life does not need to be a victim to social media. We can use it but not be controlled by it.
Build resilience in your family
Some keys that I believe have helped us build resilience as a family in the world of technology are:
- We see our hearts as the issue, not technology (not books, not movies, not hobbies, not anything that distracts us and absorbs us – it is a heart issue)
- People in our space come first – we need to show them basic courtesy and be available for them and their needs before we engage in anything else (be it Facebook, or a movie, or project we are working on)
- We have set the guidelines for how our family uses time in general. A time for everything – including technology.
- We intentionally teach our kids how to use technology wisely, and how to balance the pull of technology with people in their space. This means we need to model balance and self-control.
One reason I believe we have transitioned into the world of technology well (both using it and balancing it) is that these things were already established in our family before our kids started engaging online. But for younger families you have to develop your family culture alongside managing social media. And that is tricky I’m sure.
Ironically, one of the mental pictures that has helped me is that I see books as technology! To some this is blasphemous! And I get that, but when we stop seeing technology as the bad buy, we can see the parallels – books give us information and open whole new worlds and we become completely absorbed in them. Isn’t that what we say about digital technology? The internet gives us information, opens whole new worlds and we become completely absorbed! Same-same!
When I was a kid we weren’t allowed to bring books to the table. It was family time, and reading books, no matter how enthralling, had to be set aside. We had this rule in our family too when our kids were little. Dinner time was for eating and connecting with family. And though rules often change when kids grow older and family dynamics change, the purpose doesn’t – we still need to eat food, and we still desire to connect with each other.
It’s a heart issue
Another situation comes to mind that has, in the end, shaped our ability to handle technology:
When Josh was six and Nomi was just a baby, she was sitting on the floor crying. Josh who was not that far from her was reading a book and did not help his baby sister. I was not impressed!! As I talked to him I could see that he honestly did not hear her. I realised he was so absorbed in his book that he was oblivious to anyone else’s needs around him. I did not think that this was acceptable. So we worked on it. It was hard for him as he is a focused person, but I wanted him to have a heart for people and so he learnt to be aware and available. This transitioned into him using the computer – whether it was for study or playing games. This skill, which then became a family standard, was applied to technology in its broadest applications.
Awareness, Availability, and Deference would be the three character traits that I believe help us balance technology and family life. I know we often put self-control with any issue with technology, but I think it is overused and our kids start tuning out. So yes, we need self-control, but we need self-control for any character based choice we need to make!
- Awareness: Being aware of what is taking place around me so I can have the right responses.
- Availability: Arranging my schedule and priorities in order to help others.
- Deference: Making choices that shows the value of other people, before my own importance
You can see how these three work together – if we value other people before my own importance I will be aware of what they need and be available to meet those needs. Of course, before we go making rules, fast and tight, we always need to look at the context. My need to work may well come before my children’s need to be entertained. My son’s need to study may well come before my daughter’s need to have fun. We always need to consider context and not rules; instead we need to hear the heart of these three character traits and learn to become characterised by putting other people first.
Make changes in your Family
If you are struggling with the control technology has in your life, in your children’s life, and the impact of that on your family life then here are some keys to work on:
- Understand what you want for your family – What culture do you want to build, and how are you going to do that? If that means removing technology to specific times then do so, but don’t make technology the bad guy.
- Consider what heart attitudes are missing (awareness, availability, deference as starters) and work on those in all areas of your family life – not just the times technology is involved
- Don’t diss technology – There is nothing that is going to consolidate a rift between you and your kids (especially if your kids are pre-teens and older) than ranting about the evils of technology. They will just build a wall up and you will be on the old-fogey side and they will be on the going-places side. Our kids need to learn how to manage technology and it is far better that they learn this skill with you as their safety net than they learn it through the hard knocks of experience when they leave home.
I think this last point is my biggest concern – that parents make technology an issue and it creates division and break in relationship. It isn’t worth it. Far better to see technology for what it is – a tool to learn, create and connect, and to see our heart for what it is – selfish to the core. Our job as parent is to teach, train and guide our children’s hearts and we can’t do that if they shut us out – so keep conversations going, keep learning about technology yourself, and as always keep your focus on the issues of the heart.
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