In today’s world parents are often second or even third in command after technology and peers when it comes to providing leadership for their children.
Now is technology bad? This is the simplified version of a million dollar question which is the topic of many debates and discussions.
If it is bad, what makes it bad? The most common reason I hear is that it takes away from meaningful social interactions for children and youth.
Well, I would argue that when I am surrounded by adults in a meeting or a social gathering, at any given time, 7 out of 10 people are seriously looking at their smart phones. It seems as though they are trying to figure out a difficult math equation and a lot depends on them figuring it out right now. So let’s face it, that’s the direction the whole society is going and old or young, we have found a friend in our technological devices, and truth be told we like them!
Aside from the issues that many parents have with limiting their own use of technology, parents need to realize the reality of the generational gap that exists when it comes to technology. I, like many parents of young children, was born into a generation where I actually remember when we got our first land-line or color TV in our household. The children of this generation were born knowing nothing other than the world abundant with all sort of technological devices. They have never known anything other than the world of internet, smartphones, YouTube, Facebook, google and you name it.
Also, let’s face another fact, parents of the previous generation (my generation) feel intimidated by technology. Not intimidated in a way that they don’t know how to use it (that would be the generation of grandparents). Their feelings of intimidation are manifested in helplessness. They feel that they are always in competition with the influence of technology on their children. Or they have a secret or not so secret love/hate relationship with it. They love it because there is no better babysitter. They hate it because they can’t stand to alleviate their own guilt when their children have been sitting in front of whatever god awful electronic device for the past 7 hours. Not only that, but when their children do finally come off it, it’s like they have just come back from war. They are defeated, absent, cranky, worn out, they are absolutely exhausted. So much for the so called 'good' babysitter, now they have to deal with the aftermath, the tantrums, nightmares, sleepless nights, anxiety, and the list goes on.
It is then when they say things like, “ok no more Games”, “no more TV”, “we need to go outside”, “let’s do an activity, all of us as a family”. Finally, a moment of determination, they feel like they have got this, they can win the battle, heck, they can win the war. Technology is not the more powerful parent, they are!
Sadly, the victory is brief. Hours later they do find themselves giving in again, looking away, they are defeated and feel small and helpless again. They think, what is the point? They curl up and go on their own phone and lose themselves in their own fantastical world of social media. They like and share away and connect in superficial ways and it feels sweet and numbing.
So here we are and we say great, now what? Thanks for rubbing it in. So what if that’s how it goes?
Well, I say, I have a crazy idea!!!
What if we didn’t hate it? By it, I mean the whole technology thing. What if it didn’t have to be a battle to be won or lost? What if we didn’t have to judge it as good or bad? What if there was a different perspective? What if we could try to understand it?
Now, am I saying that it is all fine and dandy, and let’s have our kids in front of the TV or IPad for 14 hours a day? Oh no, for sure not, I would have to be a crazy therapist to say that. What I am saying is, instead of nagging them; let’s have a good look at ourselves. Not the guilt evoking, what kind of a monster parent are you, look. But an honest look where we claim our power and responsibility as parents. Asking and genuinely wondering why is it that my child feels the need to spend so much time away from real interactions? Instead of dismissing it, use it as a source of information to get into their world. I would wonder and try to understand why my child feels the need to be away from reality in such a compulsive way? What are they running away from? What is bothering them, so much?
We need to trouble ourselves to understand that their compulsive use of technology is serving a purpose. We need to use this information to understand them as opposed to punish them. This is where we can get closer to them and replace what they are getting from their time in front of the screen with real human connection. There, this becomes your opportunity to replace their need for technology with real human connection. Real human connection, with you! The sacred connection of a parent with their child. There is nothing more real than that. I have seen this in my therapy practice, time and time again that when children are given the opportunity in a loving and non-judgemental way to have a real and meaningful connection with their parents, they almost always welcome it and take it. The art is learning and daring to approach your children in a way that they will respond.
So, to over-simplify things, here are the steps:
1. Accept - You accept that in today’s world we live with technology and more of it is coming out and it is becoming more and more available and it is not going anywhere. You can’t close your eyes and say wake me up when it’s all over.
2. Look within - Use your own use of technology patterns as insight into why your child is so immersed in the virtual world. Other than its obvious functions like getting work done or gathering information and such, technology is the best escape from the moments you don’t want to face or think about. With the difference that you have the more advanced adult brain but your children don’t have the developmental coping resources that you may have. You may be better able to put your device aside and use other coping strategies (like talking and processing your feelings with another adult) but it may not be as easy for your children.
3. Understand and have empathy – Technology is a way for them to feel significant and powerful, finally one thing they can control. There is no losing with computer games. They are always going a level up. They can always earn more points. Technology is less risky than peer relationships. They can turn off the comments online but not with peers.
They do not have to be vulnerable. Children cannot afford to be vulnerable in their worlds today. There is too much at stake. So they do not even allow themselves to be with their feelings. May be they really are trying to escape that hard day at school, that math class, or that playground bully who was just not giving them a break today.
4. Connect – Use all this information to reach out to your children. Plan special time with them. “This is going to be Jonny and mommy’s special time, just the two of us.” Talk to them. Connect, connect, and connect. Get into their world. Even their world of technology. There is real human connection in them sitting face to face and telling you about how they reached the next level of their video game. Be genuinely interested in learning about their peers, games, activities and what they are up to. The more you do that, the more battles you have won. Engage in activities with them and make them feel special and wanted. The more you do that you will soon realize that you have always been the more powerful parent after all. Technology has nothing on you. Your children will not need to seek out to find comfort in anything but you. Now, don’t get me wrong, they will probably still be interested in their games and shows but not in an addictive compulsive way. It will be a part of their day not their whole world.
5. Keep it up- Now the key is consistency and continuity. You will need to keep at this as this is not a one-time affair.
Just remember, our children will not be compelled to seek real human connection when we nag and scold them to do so. It comes from us actually spending time and listening and talking to our children, in a loving and non-judgemental way. This is so they won’t need to numb themselves with the tube for whatever feelings and experiences they cannot otherwise express. We need to teach and model what it is like to engage in real human connections not just talk about it. They need to feel that they are welcome in our presence and we want to know and learn about them. It is then that they will be compelled to connect and have real and meaningful human connections.
Sabrina Golchin is a mother, wife, entrepreneur, writer, university instructor, public speaker, workshop presenter, therapist, and a parent coach who lives, works, and plays in Vaughan, Ontario. She holds a Masters in Counselling Psychology from Adler University in Vancouver, BC. She is the proud owner of Life in Harmony Counselling Services (www.lifeinharmony.ca) which provides counselling support for people healing from, going through, or contemplating a relationship breakup or divorce. She also coaches parents on effective communication and co-parenting and is an experienced child and youth therapist. She provides in-person, on the phone, or skype counselling sessions to clients all across Canada.
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