Life was so much simpler when I was a kid. I used to wake up on a Saturday morning and after having a quick breakfast, I would be left to my own devices. The weekend was ahead of me and there were so many possibilities. Sure there was homework to be done, but that could always wait for late on Sunday afternoon. I might spend the entire day riding my bike around, only stopping for lunch and dinner. Or I might play soccer with some friends. Sometimes I would spend the whole day playing games on a computer.
Me (on the left side of the photo cheering my friend on) in simpler times. When kids played outside. Ignore the ceramic clay piñata pot that, when hit, sent sharp shards flying everywhere.
Now that I have kids of my own and I look back and think that maybe life was so much simpler then. Parenting now is so much different and complex. Right? But then I started wondering, did my parents think the same thing when I was a kid? Did they look at all the things that I was doing and long for the simpler times of when they were kids?
My mum grew up in rural Alberta, Canada and their phone was on a party line. That meant that they shared the same telephone line with thirteen or fourteen other houses. The ring for her house was 5 long and two short rings. You had to make sure the phone wasn’t being used by one of your neighbours if you wanted to make a call. And even then you could lift up the receiver and listen in to anyone’s conversation. As a result, they didn’t use the phone very much. What did she think of me talking for hours on the phone with my friends? Was she thinking, “This new technology is ruining our lives!”?
Fast forward to today and to my daughter. She has a watch which is capable of making a receiving phone calls and texts. I can even use the GPS feature of the watch to track where she is. She can use a phone or a computer today to video chat with her cousins in Canada. When I was young, I would only be able to talk to my grandparents or cousins once a year on their birthday because phone calls were so expensive. That has all changed.
The bottom line is that technology will always improve. And with the improvements there will be some things that, as parents, we like and others that we don’t. We can’t change those things. We just have to deal with them. It is easy to demonize technology and blame it for all that is wrong in the world today.
For each advance that technology gives us, one person may look at it as a good thing while another may look at it as a negative thing. For example, it has never been easier to keep it touch through emails, text messages, phone calls, and video chats. Some people love this because they like to stay in contact with people while others will say we are too connected now that we can be contacted wherever we are. Both are right. It is just a matter of perspective. Are you a technology half-full or half-empty glass type of person?
We don’t live in the days where one phone is shared between 14 households and people can listen into your conversations. We live in a world where you can order your groceries online and have them delivered to you hours later, where you can navigate using a live map on your phone, where you can capture a video or live stream an event and share with the world, where you can research information by asking your device a question, where we can rent a movie with one click from the comfort of our couch at home .
We shouldn’t say that technology is ruining our lives, it is a part of our lives. We have to learn to use and manage and work with all aspects of our lives and technology is one of those. So how do we do that?
1. Pick an Approach
As parents we can’t change our circumstances. We just have to do our best with what we have. So three parenting approaches that you can use are the rules based approach, the conversational based approach and the dispositional based approach. These can be uses for all aspects of parenting and not just when dealing with digital devices.
Rules Based Approach – Parents make the rules and that is that.
Conversational Based Approach – Parents and children engage in a conversation and come to an agreement about rules and limits.
Dispositional Based Approach – Kids are left to make the decision about how much in enough and what they should be doing.
You can use one or all of these approaches. For example, at my home we use all three. We use the rules base approach when it comes to devices at meal times. We have no devices at the table. That is the rule. No discussion.
We use the conversational approach when it comes to amount of screen time. We talk with our kids and have a discussion about how much screen time they should have.
We use the dispositional approach when it comes to what our kids do with that screen time. If they choose to watch YouTube video on how to make slime, then that is their choice. Of course, we have conversations about appropriate content and what they should do if they come across something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Whichever approach you choose, you need to do what feels right for you. The following links may be helpful reading.
Others might say that there are a number of issues that technology makes it easier for people to do bad things. There was bullying before but now technology makes it easier for people to bully. However, it also makes it easier to catch the people bullying. If bullying used to occur on the playground and now it occurs in digital spaces, it is much easier to capture the screens of text that a bully may send. It is easier for the person who is being bullied to reach out for help online.
Here are some other resources for issues that we often hear about such as distractions, gaming, screen time and cyber bullying.
2. You Are a Role Model
As a parent, you are an important role model in your child’s life. Your use of technology will have an effect on how they view technology. It doesn’t do any good to tell your kids that there are no devices at mealtimes only to use your phone because you just need to do something really important.
3. Balance is Key
Balance is important in every part of our lives. If we don’t eat a balanced diet, we aren’t healthy. If we work too much our home life suffers. The same goes for digital aspects of our lives. If we are playing video games all weekend, other parts of our lives will be affected.
For some people it is easier to limit themselves than it is for others. Left to do whatever they want, one of my kids would spend all day watching videos while the other would prefer to participate in a wider variety of activities. You know your children best and you will have to make the decisions that are best for your family.
4. Get Involved
As parents we can’t stick our heads in the sand and say that the sky is falling.
Whatever your child is doing, get involved. One of the things I often hear from parents is, “But everything is so different than when I was a kid! I just can’t keep up!” Once again, this is no different from what my parents said. They complained about not being able to program the VCR or understand how to use the newest piece of technology. Parents, in general, have been using that excuse about new technology for generations.
Kids love to see their parents participating in something they are interested in. Ask your children to explain what they are doing and why they are doing it. Ask them why it is important. These conversations can help you to understand what they are doing and identify and concerns, issues or possible problems.
It helps when the technology is in a common area and you can walk past and see what they are doing and ask them about it.
We need to keep the lines of communication open so that our kids will talk to us. Some kids I have talked to have said that they have encountered swearing by other people in games that they play. When I asked them what they do about it, they said that they usually ignored it but if it didn’t stop they would often play a different game or change the game so they aren’t playing with those people who are swearing. I feel that is a great response.
When I asked them if they told their parents, some of them said, “No way! Then my parents wouldn’t let me play the game!” It may be hard to know that your child is exposed to things that you don’t want them to see or hear. As parents, what we want to do is prepare them to deal with things responsibly. We want them to be able to come to us and talk about what has happened. That way we can support them. If we get upset and angry when they come to us about something that they have seen or heard, they might not come back to us again. We need to work really hard to keep those lines of communication open and that all starts with talking to them about what they are doing with technology.
We live in a magical time. We just have to navigate the things we like and the things we don’t. That hasn’t changed for parents in generations. Your kids will be thinking about the simpler times when they were kids.