Most of us are afraid of our kids being on screens, social media and technology in general – what’s too much? What are they actually doing? Are they going to be okay? And yet most of us are on social media and OUR devices even more. Right?
We hear it all the time – judgment of “kids these days” being on their devices all the time. And yet I know grandparents who are on their iPads or who watch TV ALL.THE.TIME. I know grandparents who hardly ever socialize in person but watch the news or play on their apps all day. Grandparents love to judge the younger generations!
I know parents who are on Facebook a lot (me) or play Candy Crush a lot or tweet a lot or whatever their favorite digital escape is. We all see parents on their phones all the time. Anywhere where we have to wait (grocery line, airport, car wash) – everyone’s on their phones. Kids might be right next to them wanting to connect, but they’re on their phones.
My first thought is less about judging the parents, and more about hypocrisy.
We don’t want to be that parent, but most of us are.
Myself included. One day a couple of years ago, I asked my older son to put his phone away at the dinner table and he said “said the woman with her phone next to her at the dinner table.” Touche!
That was a big moment for me – my phone is never invited to the dinner table anymore.
Can we be honest with ourselves and with them?
I want us to work with our kids to find solutions. Can we discuss why we feel so addicted to our devices? Acknowledge that you sometimes feel that you are online too much and how hard it is to get off. Discuss what it is that we are all looking for that (we hope) social media will provide for us (authentic connection). Join together with ideas for how we can all carve out digital breaks. Get creative.
I have some really awesome connections and conversations that go deep on Facebook – I really and truly enjoy my time on social media. And yes, it’s also true that it’s very hard to get off sometimes. I also see that when I am stressed or bored, I reach for my phone to check email or Facebook. By showing our weakness and struggle around this, our kids are able to more honestly reflect on their own experience.
For teens, the stakes feel (are) even higher socially than for adults.
If they’re not online all the time, they ARE disconnected because everyone else IS online. Back when we were growing up, not much happened between school letting out and going back to school the next morning. Now, an entire social group could be disrupted overnight via text or Instagram and the kids do not want to be left out. In fact, from a survival point of view, being left out feels like death. If no one was online, that would be one thing. But since everyone is, they feel compelled to stay connected. It’s a wonderful place to practice empathy for them and the pressure they feel. And to open up the discussion around friendship, kindness, authentic connection, and much more.
Approaching the digital world with fear will not serve us well.
Ultimately it will erode our relationships with our kids because it’s their world – the only world they know. If we’re hypocritical, they will lose respect for us. If we micromanage, they’ll hide from us. If we’re judgmental, they’ll disconnect from us.
And fear clouds our judgment. We become unable to see the situation clearly. Examine your fears for sure. Face them, but don’t let them dictate your behaviors.
Let’s approach the subject with curiosity, connection and empathy (and an open mind).
When we approach our kids with connection, empathy and sensitivity, our kids are much more interested in listening. They feel part of something rather than on the outside of it. They feel that they are doing something rather than having something done to them. When solicited with an open heart and open mind, kids come up with with great ideas.
Seek first to understand.
They’ll likely also be much more willing to listen to your fears when you are connected and empathetic towards them. They will be more open to you guiding them (and they DO need guidance). I am not suggesting they will just jump up and say “take my phone, I get it, I don’t need it anymore” – but they might be more willing to consider more points of view when they first feel understood.
We are all looking for connection and sometimes we look in the wrong places.
It’s okay, we are human. Our lack of authentic human connection is what fuels most addictions. But let’s not forget that most of us adults are doing what our kids are doing. So let’s heal together.
Let’s find authentic connection together.
Our kids want it too! Here’s a question for you – for kids aged 13-18, what do you think is their preferred way of connecting with their friends? I was all confident and was sure it was texting or Snapchat. Not true – in a 2012 survey, their response was in person. Perhaps we need to give them a little more credit than we do. And one thing we don’t SEE is that they spend all day long at school where they are connecting with their peers in class, between classes, at lunch and more.
I’m more acutely aware these days of my own desire to connect. My strong sense of wanting to be with people who really see me and get me and where I feel the same for them. When I don’t have it, I feel myself reaching for my phone for a fix. I am trying to use that as a cue to text someone to coordinate lunch rather than the instant (yet not as satisfying) fix from Facebook. What about you? Do you notice yourself wanting more authentic connection? I’d love to hear more in the comments below.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that we don’t set some boundaries and limits. They are younger, their brains are developing and very few kids are able to self-regulate. They do need us to guide them and support them as they develop the skills to regulate their time and make good online decisions. But wouldn’t it be much more fun to collaborate with them on this? To open up to the goodness about technology (there is so much) and find a way to integrate all that we know about how to relate in person to what they know about their digital world?
Imagine what we can teach them! And imagine what we can learn from them!