Parenting in a Digital Age
The modern digital age calls for screens as part of daily life. When it comes to parenting and wondering whether they will actually end up with visual impairment or be slightly deranged if they play too many video games, it can be problematic deciding what is for the best. We don't want our children to be technologically inadequate yet how much time spent racing, chasing or even shooting at things is really developing any skills or positive outcome for their future? How much “fun” time is really acceptable and how do we put understandable restrictions that they will adhere to as opposed to rebel against?
For me, as a parent, I chose to completely resist the world of video games, my personal reasons were that there is a huge playground outside full of learning, opportunity and fresh air which doesn’t merely require eyes and thumbs to operate. Kids used to play outdoors for hours, climbing trees and making up adventurous games with pure imagination. It gives you such joy to play, to freely conjure up new worlds, ideas and concepts, why limit them to structured applications that were created by other minds?
It is another concept to consider that it is also actually ok for children not to be doing anything. To sit at a restaurant table and not be given the direct instant gratification of a screen to keep them occupied. We have seemingly forgotten about the concept of boredom altogether as it has become something that must be avoided at all costs. A child should be able to just be, without entertainment. Imagination will become a lost art. Many of the greatest inventions were discovered whilst their founder was not actively working at anything, but resting or just being. For example, Newton was not in a lab when the proverbial apple fell to install gravity into our lives. He was just ‘being’ under said apple tree and having a bit of time out.
Having your needs met instantly is not, in the long run, good for you. Patience, respect, dedication and mindfulness do not develop when you’re used to food arriving at your door ten minutes after you ask for it, a phone being handed to you to watch you tube videos on if you’re waiting in a queue, or basically never having to wait for anything in your life without digital entertainment. It is not the fault of the child if it is all they have ever known.
Having researched into occupational therapy and child psychology, plus knowing many primary school teachers and parents, I have come to know that parental emotional availability is the most essential and enriching element for a child’s development. Depriving them of this by replacing ourselves with screens is something that is becoming more apparent in this technological age.
As parents we hold all the power and tools to delay gratification; we can resist to hand out what children want when they want it. It is this delay and their knowledge that they cannot get what they want on tap that will serve them well in their future. Learning to wait develops patience, respect, gratitude and heightens reward. It will also be a lesson in dealing with stressful situations, which life will inevitably hand them at many turns; as they rely less on instant gratification they will become better equipped. As parents we need to learn the power of “no” and not to give in to a negative reaction to it. The child is not the parent nor the guide; they are the ones requiring the guidance yet they are all too often, albeit unintentionally, being handed the reigns.
It is this reversal of roles that is getting parents into the twist of saying “she won’t eat that”, or “he doesn’t like reading”, “he won’t get dressed alone”, “if I don’t feed her myself she just won’t eat”, “I can’t get them to go to bed any earlier”…the child has become the dictator due to parents finding it increasingly difficult to say the ’N’ word (no), and taking control. Children require nutrition and plenty of sleep, which every parent knows, so the eventuality is that kids aren’t being given what they essentially need to function effectively if we give in to their every whim. As parents we are in the game of doing the best by our children and so this pattern is proving to imply the opposite without it ever being the intention.
Children need to learn from a young age that things are earned; you cannot become excellent at anything by chance, you have to work hard at it and practice in order to achieve. If they are only used to being handed what they want instantly they will have a harder time later on in life when this is no longer a reality; it will be something they are entirely unaccustomed to and will come as a huge shock. Not only this but they will be oppressed into thinking they are not as good as they were always told, goals will be deemed unattainable, and rejection will come as a hard knock if they are unequipped to deal with the world they will eventually face alone. How will they react to becoming suddenly incapable of getting what they want?
How can we combat this? I think one way is to allow a lull in constant entertainment. There can be quiet moments, literally sitting and thinking without distraction…how often do any of us actually do this? This should be a must in parental duty rather than the desperate attempt to fill every waking moment of their lives. They need to learn to help around the house, assist with monotonous tasks as part of daily life; they are only what we teach them to an extent. This training will help them to learn at school, which can prove less stimulating than some of the activities they do outside of school. Modern day kids are finding it tough to focus in class and one reason may well have a lot to do with how over-stimulated they are on a daily basis. They are not used to slow, they are not used to listening and they are not used to having to figure things out alone unless it is how to get to the next level of the game they are playing. We need make sure their work muscle within the brain is sufficiently trained, which does not happen via endless entertainment.
Our busy lives should not impact on our children’s by handing them a digital babysitter. They need to learn social skills and utilise their brain power in their natural environments. To give a child abilities they need to learn them, and parents are those who must teach. An iPad is not going to give a child social skills, it will not teach them to ride a bike and it certainly will not teach them good manners.
HERE IS HOW:
So let us take heed, limit their technology time and when it is screen time gear it towards educational apps rather than persistent entertainment,. Reconnect with them emotionally - really get to know each other without a digital presence in sight. Get out together and ride bikes, play tag, read together, surprise them with time out alone with one parent, climb a tree together, go camping, play board games, practice yoga, meditate, take nature walks, etc. You get the picture and so will they; their joy and gratification will shift from initiating in alone time with a screen to outdoors with a parent, family and friends.
Delay gratification when possible, their time must be spent on your terms, it is healthy to wait. It is perfectly ok to be bored. Creativity is inspired in these moments (remember Newton!). Teach that “I want doesn’t get”, and especially not immediately. Reduce the “I’m hungry” - “here’s food” scenarios.
Schedules help; if a child knows the time when certain things are allowed, then this becomes the norm and the boundary. Those boundaries are never crossed, that is the rule. These limits will serve them in developing respect for the rules and therefore their parents or other authoritative roles.
Instruct manners; helping in the home, respectful language, please and thank you is essential, clean up after yourself, help others (especially parents!), compliment your siblings or friends, encourage your peers, be mindful, etc. These are all necessary attributes and can be achieved with rewards yet if instilled from a young age, it is just what is normal and correct.
One big lesson to be learned from all this is that parents need to give their children what they need, which is not necessarily (more often than not it is the opposite) what they think they want. In the face of adversity (adversity being the strong will of our children) providing them with life’s essentials can be tough yet far more rewarding to their future; by doing this we are giving them more opportunity of success in life. More often than not once parents change their perspective toward parenting the children tend to follow suit easier than you would imagine.