I recently came across an article (ironically enough, through social media) about being a Gen X parent. It points out that our generation is the last to have one foot in growing up in the pre-internet era and now raising kids in a fully connected era. The article is here, ‘Parenting as a Gen Xer: We’er the First Generation of Parents in the Age of iEverything’, check it out if you have a chance.
Prior to reading this article I had been chewing on this topic. My wife and I welcomed our first-born, Galen, into the world a little over a year ago and in the past few months he has gotten more curious and taken more of an interest in our smartphones, laptops, etc., but it fades pretty quickly once he has flicked and swiped at them for a minute or two. At first, I was caught up in the cries to unplug our kids and get their faces out of the screens or we risk the downfall of society. But as I took a step back and looked more objectively at this reaction it was clear that every generation has had some similar ‘alarm’ to sound about the next generation. Whether it be about how they interact socially or the music they listen to, etc. It’s a natural response as each generation wants to believe that the way they grew up and experienced the world is the best way. I am not immune, I catch myself doing the same thing when I consider approaches for our son. It makes sense, we are working with what we know and are comfortable with, but many times this is built on the experiences of a world that no longer exists. Change is constant and social norms tend to shift as we advance as a society and not taking these changes into consideration risks holding the next generation back on some level.
This current debate over screen time is a tough balance to tease out because on one hand you want them to develop in the tech reality of today’s world but it’s also on us as parents to teach them balance and other channels of learning and stimulation. The latter part I would debate we don’t put enough effort into. The author of the article uses an example of how she points out a river to the kids as they drive over it and they don’t even take notice. This is a simplified example, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. Is pointing something out really an optimal way to engage highly distractible kiddos? Let’s face it, our lives are very busy and don’t seem to lack ‘things’ for us to focus on. Sometimes this digs into our effort level as parents. Asking a kid to pay attention to something we think is important is very different than taking them out to ‘experience’ it. People get sucked into devices and technology for the stimulation and a big part of engaging in that stimulation is doing. As parents, myself included, sometimes I think we don’t take the time to be purposeful in helping kids experience these other outlets and channels. There is great benefit in carving out the time as a family to getting out and doing things together, whether that’s going on a hike, going camping, going to a cultural event, etc. Not only is this an opportunity to bond as a family but it puts our kids in a mode to interact with the non-screen world. My wife and I recently invested in a used camper, because we knew we had fallen into a rut of just kicking back at home and not getting out into the world with Galen. We wanted to set ourselves up to be sure we would break away from the trappings of home, internet, etc. and experience what is out there with Galen. Longer-term we hope to invest in a cabin where we can get away from the data grid for a few days each month.
Is screen time a bad thing? No, it’s the reality of the world today and that doesn’t have to be a negative aspect. But if that screen time has become a substitute for engaging our kids then yes, Houston we have a problem. Just like so many things we just need to be engaged and not lose sight of the fact that these little humans we brought into the world rely on us to help them understand what is out there and the many ways they can experience these things. Is there any guarantee they won’t bury themselves in technology as teenagers? Nope, but if we introduce them to other parts of the world, especially in their formative years, you can bet that will stick with them later in life.
So from my perspective, let them have their screen time and yes monitor how they use it, but if we are balancing that with other experiences then we are more likely to raise a more well-rounded member of society, equipped to thrive in an ever-changing world.
We, as parents, teach them the art of exploring, but the paths they choose become their own, we are just equipping them for that journey.
Confession Time: In recent weeks, my one year old many times points to our sliding door pleading to go outside and explore, and more times than I like to admit we redirect him because we are too tired or stressed or busy to take him outside. I am realizing more and more that this new desire he has developed is one I should be fostering more rather than looking to avoid. I have made a pledge to myself to put more effort into his non-screen curiosity now while he is young and developing. Heck he is already growing into a good influence on his old man by getting me outside more!
What do you say Gen Xer’s? Do you find yourself in this conundrum? How do you tangle with technology use with your kids?