I hate that I use this specific grouping of words, but I can’t help myself lately. It’s far too tempting.
“When I was a kid…”
I hated when my parents used it, and it feels completely empty when I use it. Quite simply, because it teaches nothing. My children aren’t going to gain a greater perspective on how convenient their lifestyle is by me reminding them constantly that they have more than I ever had growing up. It falls flat, in the same way my parents’ words fell flat when they would tell me how lucky I was to have music on cassettes, and then later, CDs.
“You don’t have to search, or wait for anything. Back in my day, we had 8 tracks. And you listened to the entire album just to get to the one song you wanted to hear. That’s how it worked,” they’d say. I nodded in acknowledgement, but it didn’t change the fact that I’d never fully grasp the frustration. Fast forward to 2017.
“Honey, when I was a kid, no one had cell phones or tablets. Most people didn’t even have the Internet, and you actually had to drive to the store to buy music and movies,” I’d say.
“Oh, really?” my son half-heartedly mutters, before searching for that famous Odell Beckham catch on YouTube, then watching it mere seconds later. Clearly, he’d never understand the frustration of your mom picking up the house phone and booting you off America Online.
Frankly, I don’t blame him. Why would he not take advantage of a modern convenience that’s readily available to him? Especially when I’m the one enabling it. But I can’t help but be concerned that the immediate gratification he’s getting used to will be expected in other facets of his life.
What happens when he has to start consuming long-form content like textbooks in school instead of 3-4 minute video clips on YouTube of other people opening up football cards? (Don’t get me started on that.) Or when he gets a job and isn’t promoted within the first three months? I’m starting to realize that one of my many, many missions as a parent is to prevent my children from becoming impatient, anti-social drones whose brains are wired to constantly be stimulated by a screen as they download and consume content all of their waking hours.
One of the saddest, eye-opening scenes I’ve yet witnessed was at a party a few months ago. There was a young boy, about six-years-old, who sat at a table for three straight hours watching God-knows-what on a tablet, as other children ran around and played with one another. His parents were nowhere to be seen. At one point, a girl who I assume was his sister tried to pry him away, but it was not happening. He was hooked. I felt bad for him. Because even though his actions are his own, he clearly wasn’t getting the guidance he needed from those around him.
So maybe you’re thinking, “Well, it’s possible that he wasn’t feeling well, or he wasn’t allowed to use the iPad all week and this was the only time he’d have to catch up on Dude Perfect.” But no one can deny that this is a growing trend, and more and more children are choosing to isolate themselves instead of being social. It’s a dangerous cultural shift, but one that maybe we can curtail if we try hard enough.
Here are some strategies I’ve been implementing with my children, to mixed results:
Make them wait.
I was in the car with my kids the other day when one asked me to play “Despacito” from my phone (again, don’t ask). My initial instinct was to ping Siri. But then I stopped myself, told him he’d have to actually wait. Quite simply, we need to make our children wait for things, no matter how easily accessible they are (chocolate chip cookies are easily accessible. Doesn’t mean we should be handing them over all day long.).
Encourage social activity.
No, not social media. Face-to-face, stay out till dark social. Kickball games. Pool parties. Creating a fort in your backyard. While technology is changing our world (in some ways for the better), kids should still be regularly introduced to the idea that the most enjoyable, rewarding experiences occur without the aid of Wi-Fi.
Set time limits.
Some have suggested allowing our children to set their own limits with technology. The thinking behind it is that it creates a sense of autonomy, self-governance that can be beneficial later in life. But I don’t know many six or eight-year olds who are mature enough to self-regulate properly. Kids need boundaries. If they’re playing on an iPad, let them know how much time they’ll have with it, then enforce that time limit. Not only will it cause them to respect your authority, but it trains their brains to break from technology at a certain point.
Lead by example.
Telling your children not to smoke while you have a cigarette resting on your bottom lip isn’t a sound strategy for getting a point across. The same goes for use of technology. If you’re constantly consumed by a screen, how can you expect different behavior from your most absorbable sponges?
At the end of the day, we obviously need to accept the fact that technology is bountiful, and that it’s going to be a part of our children’s lives in some form or another. But that doesn’t mean it needs to have our attention at every event, at every meal.
We should be adaptable to changes in our culture. But we (and our children) don’t have to be overtaken by them.
Joe DeProspero is a blogger, author, and podcast host. He can be contacted at email@example.com and his podcast, A Parent Chaos, where he interviews moms and dads on their greatest parenthood challenge from adoption to the death of a child, can be heard here.