My parents were with us over the weekend and my kids (12 and 14) were awful! All they wanted to do was text their friends or go on social media. Their grandparents only visit twice a year and make a lot of effort to spend time with them. I don't expect them to hang on them the way they did when they were little but they grunted their answers when my parents tried to talk. I finally took away their phones but what else can we do to teach them how to behave offline?
I'm sorry to hear about the rough weekend, but glad you asked that question as it touches on a subject I've been spending a great deal of time considering: how to raise kids in this digital world.
First, let me invite you to a very special series I'll be doing with an exceptional lineup of speakers called Parenting in the Digital Age. This is a free online series of conversations that will take place Feb 23-26th (replays available) featuring people like Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Victoria Dunckley, Alanis Morissette, Byron Katie, Simon Sinek and many others. Please click here if you'd like to attend.
You are wise to pay attention to what's happening with your kids and their devices. In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle writes,
Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won't mind being interrupted. They don't feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.
We need to set a different course, one that doesn't punish our children for disengaging from face to face interaction, but reminds them--experientially-- of its blessings. How?
• Model presence. Our children learn far more from watching us than from our scoldings or lectures. Is your phone on the table at meal time? Do you carry it with you when you go for a walk? Show your kids what it looks like to disconnect from your devices to make sure all of you is in-the-room when it's family time.
• Listen. It's important that your kids spend time with their grandparents, but if you punish them for wanting to be online with their friends you'll only create resentment. Let your kids express their frustration about having to play Gin Rummy or hear Grandpa's stories (again) about when Daddy was a little boy. If you don't shame your children for wishing they could retreat to their devices and instead make it safe to express whatever is on their mind, you'll be setting the stage for authentic conversation.
• Speak your values. Your predicament--shared across the land--is not just about screen time. It is about values. If you acknowledge your kids' feelings (even if you disagree), they will be more receptive to hearing your Why. Look inside yourself and connect with why you care about your kids spending time with your parents, beyond it being "nice." Then, speak from your heart. Perhaps you want to make sure your parents really know your kids, beyond smiling for photos. Or maybe you're hoping your youngsters can learn from some of the challenges your folks have lived through. When we start with why, as my tele summit guest Simon Sinek so eloquently expressed in his TED talk, we make an impact.
We are all trying to figure out how to enjoy technology without it running our lives. While no one has all the answers, the more we learn, the better our chances of raising kids who become adults capable of genuine connection and deep conversation.
Join the Parenting in the Digital Age online series by clicking here.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.