There is going to come a time when my children want to speak to me about my smartphone use. It’s a time I both anticipate and dread.
As parents, we are in the midst of an ongoing discussion on the use of screen time and its effects on childhood development. At what age to begin, how frequently to expose, and the possibility of “addiction” is now a well-woven thread in our parental consciousness.
But with the average adult spending approximately four hours a day on their cellular device, our own use of technology, and our concessions to our overuse, are also slowly coming to light. We acknowledge collectively that a massive shift in the way we relate to the world around us has occurred, but our ability to adapt is impaired because there is simply no precedent for this. We are learning the rules as we go. Adults relating to one another while continually checking devices are having to dialogue and work together to find the right balance to maintain healthy relationships. And it’s a tough balance to find.
Our children’s generation is coming into a world already immersed in handheld technology. They have not yet had real opportunity to voice their perspectives. To be a child raised by adults who frequently interrupt human interactions to look at their phones is something to which we as parents cannot relate. As our children mature and reflect upon the ramifications of the age in which they grew up, it is certain that we will receive both appreciation as well as criticism for the childhood they experienced.
It took me years of parenting before I realized that helping my children develop a healthy relationship with technology is a significant role I will play as their mother. Like eating habits, it is something that for all intents and purposes will be an integral part of their lives. And however much I attempt to follow the recommendations for their exposure (or lack thereof), I need to acknowledge that my own example will be a pivotal, and perhaps paramount, factor in shaping these relationships.
So how can we use our experiences to intelligently educate our children on healthy habits? Where should we begin as parents in discussing technology use with our children?
I believe these conversations must begin with compassion. Though not a word commonly associated with technology, teaching our children to see this issue through a compassionate lens can be a conduit for their own self-awareness and positive change. From there, other important aspects can be discussed:
We Do Not Know How This Will Play Out
Like every other generation which has lived through a technological revolution, we have the task of wrapping our minds around a reality that has shifted dramatically from the past. And just like every generation before us, we will make great advances and terrible mistakes with these new abilities. Acknowledging this duality to our children teaches them to place themselves in the context of an ongoing story without a clear ending. We do not have the whole picture, and we are learning as we go. We are trying our best, sometimes failing, but in feeling compassion for this thread of our human history, maturing children may be able to more effectively navigate their own emotions in a perpetually changing world.
Our Use of Technology Is Rooted In Our Humanity
Whether it be a desire to connect, learn, make an impact, curb anxiety, or share emotion, we use (and over-use) technology because of our humanness. We are a social species in a world that often demands frequent changes and diminished community connections. In using technology, we are seeking to find the same human necessities our ancestors sought in a world free of technological devices. That we are often left feeling unsatisfied with time spent on our phones is a harsh reality with which we are still coming to terms. Seeking compassion will inspire our children to explore the potential of technology without sinking into the negative emotions that frequently plague their parents.
People Are Always More Important
About a year ago, while I was doing something on my phone, my oldest son (four at the time) asked and then persisted in asking me for a snack. Finally exasperated by my delay, he stated, “Mommy, taking care of me is more important than looking at your phone.”
Regardless of the importance of what I was doing, or the respect children must have for the other tasks their parents must complete, what struck me about my son’s statement is his inherent knowledge of his value over technology. He has grown up surrounded by it, but it has not curbed his awareness that his mother being present to him matters.
I do not want me children to ever lose sight of this – that our interactions with one another are more important than the gadgets that we hold in our hands or on our laps. I was happy my son felt this so intensely, and I hope that he, and every other member of his generation, does not lose sight of this truth as they grow.
I hope that as my children maneuver through this technological era, compassion will enable them to explore the potentials which technology holds without losing sight of the humanity which makes it all worthwhile.