Let’s Talk to Our Children About Our Smartphone Habits

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.

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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.

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Finding Strength in Civility

How daunting it is to raise children in a society so fraught with conflict. When our differences are more pronounced than our similarities and the future seems all too uncertain, it’s difficult to know how to guide our children toward their roles as responsible citizens amidst a bitterly divided nation.

In the face of great cultural and political divide, standards of civility have taken on an antiquated, if not controversial, status.

Those who wield political power and social influence are rewarded for abandoning all pretense of civility in favor of condescension and derogatory name-calling. This behavior is often reflected in our own day-to-day desire to prove our point and condemn our opponent. And all the while we are left wondering, in a collectively exhausted state, if rhetoric and dialogue which retain respect for our perceived opponents has any skin left in the game.

It’s easy to see how civil behavior is losing a popularity contest. When communities feel trampled upon or threatened, when people are made to feel belittled or forgotten, our natural reaction is to fight it out and defeat our opponent. If there is something for which we feel strongly, it may feel weak and superficial to be civil in our interactions with people who we believe are gravely wrong. It may even seem subservient to “their agenda”. Thus we assume the role of warrior in order to “combat” their presence in our society.

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The thing is, when I look at my young children, I realize my job is not to raise combatants who rally against their neighbors. Rather, my responsibility is to raise civilians who tirelessly and peacefully strive to build a safe and just society for all.

However much I want my children to pursue justice, I cannot teach them that this pursuit entitles them to treat others uncivilly. In fact, despite the growing controversy surrounding this behavior, my children are taught that they must try to be civil. Always.

When engaging in any kind of social matter, I want my children to appeal to the best which is within themselves, as well as those with whom they disagree.

This commitment is not showing weakness, frailty or privilege, but rather an inner strength which holds that all people are created equal and thus deserving of a recognized inherent dignity. If I want my children to promote justice, I need to provide them with as much of this strength as humanly possible for the arduous task. The belief in the inherent dignity of all can provide a will to carry on when everything seems to be going against them.

Radical love, or radical justice, calls us to embrace a consistent code of civility. Consistency in its application to all humans, regardless of whether we believe they merit it or not, is to embrace true equality and a fervent belief in humanity’s ability to apply reason and intentionality to our words and actions. If what my children believe is good and true, then they need to employ all that is good and true to bring about this vision. Regardless of what they are facing, the strength of their positive message must be the victor, not their pride.

These days, my young children want retribution for every unfair thing that happens to them. An eye for an eye. But in teaching them that civility means laying aside the desire for self-gratifying retaliation, I hope to alleviate for them the exhausting and toxic cycle we now find ourselves in today. If we continue as we are, no one will have the last word or obtain reconciliation. 

And though humanly impossible not to struggle with the urge to be uncivil, I hope that the majority of my children’s energy could be directed toward greater things.

They could rely on wit instead of vulgarity in advancing their beliefs.

They could use their knowledge instead of their biases to discuss the issues.

They could have the courage to listen instead of always having to prove a point.

And perhaps most radical of all, they could recognize that kindness does not negate truth, but often facilitates the conversion experience toward real and meaningful change.

So, I teach my children that strength lies in civility. And I know I’m not alone in teaching this.

This essay was also featured on The Institute for Civility in Government blog

 

 

 

Conversations with My Adult Children

My three children are young. Quite young. Too young in fact to be aware of so much of what I will be discussing on this blog.

And yet, I often find in the thoughts which compel my actions and choices, an ongoing conversation with my adult children. In my mind their images are hazy, rough sketches of what nature has revealed thus far about their fledgling qualities and traits. But their voices are clear and deliberate, and often they ask a loaded question –

“What have you taught me?”

Parenthood is a daily exercise in staying in the present. It’s a discipline in appreciating the unique and incredible formation of young humans, whose destinies will be molded, but in no way determined, by the adults who surround them.

But one day in the future, my children will ask me to give account of what I have taught them. In order for me to do this to the best of my ability, my thoughts which fill their minds presently must come from a place of great intentionality and perhaps most important of all, humility.

That we are carving out our own destinies with uncertainty while raising the next generation seems a rather precarious reality for the species. But this awareness has the power to create a wellspring of empathy, patience and companionship as well.

In all the ordinary moments of being a family, in the seemingly inconsequential activities of daily living, lies a deep and meaningful story between parent and child. Amidst the nursery rhymes, water colors and introductory lessons is the set-up for an incredible drama that has been and will continue to be the story of our people.

We are our children’s teachers, and yet without placing ourselves into the context of our time, and place, it seems the marrow of this incredible dynamic can be diminished. To be deliberate in what we teach to our children and why we teach our children these things seems essential to raising courageous and thoughtful adults.

I’m rather intimated to blog. But I hope it will compel me to continue to flesh out those thoughts and values which I hope my children carry with them into the future. That this may also lead to meaningful conversation with friends who share in our human story would be an incredible gift.

Nothing here will be overly personal. I am not planning on sharing specific stories about my family. But from a different perspective, this blog will be incredibly personal in the sense that the things I teach my children are a reflection of the truth and love which I feel for them and the world around.

So here we are. Things I teach my Children, while still learning myself.

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