Are you a digital immigrant raising digital natives?
How is it going?
(You’re thinking of giving a chipper, positive reply, aren’t you?)
I want your honest answer.
How’s it really going?
For most of us, the answer is more along the lines of “Houston, we have a problem. A big one.” Deep in our hearts, we know that extended time in front of screens cannot be good for us or our children.
We know that without enough connection to the real world, our children are at risk of a long list of known dangers.
In spite of reading all the books, and eagerly listening to the advice my dear friends offered, I had no idea what we were getting into when we received the titles Mama and Papa. We were married for over 10 years before conceiving our miracle baby. I was the oldest in our close circle of friends, and by the time we had our son, our friends were already deep into their parenting journey. I was an older mama who desperately wanted to get this motherhood thing right.
Meanwhile, I made plenty of mental notes as I observed how my friends raised their digital natives. I watched as they went through all the latest trends in video gaming: PlayStation, DS, XBox, Steam, Nintendo DS, and XBox 360...and that list only brings us to 2005!
When my son was born in 2003, my only strategy was to hold out as long as I could before exposing him to screens and, thus, whetting his appetite for digital devices.
With my infant son in my arms, I observed how much time and attention my friends’ amazing kids, mainly boys, were spending on video games and television. Something rose up inside me and screamed "NO, not my son!" I wasn’t judging other parents; I just felt this literal enmity stirred in me. I was saying “NO” to disconnection.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement, and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship” (2010). My heart’s desire was that my son would develop and maintain a strong connection with both the people and the world around him. I wanted to raise him to have a strong sense of purpose, to know he was created “for such a time as this” to do good in this world and make it a better place. Besides, his brain was going to grow three times its size in the first two years of life and those 86 billion neurons needed to develop naturally.
My husband is a very intelligent man with a smart sense of humor. I always say I fell in love with his brain first. I credit this to the fact he was raised on the mission field in Mexico with zero TV. His family did not have much in the way of financial resources, and he had to be creative in figuring out how to entertain himself. There was no TV to sit in front of and be entertained by. Later, while in the military, my husband became addicted to computer games. The disconnection I felt as a result exemplified the lack of qualities Brené Brown attributes to being connected to someone. Rather than feeling as though I was seen and heard, I felt lonely and abandoned for a screen.
There are literally millions of books and things to do, see, and learn in the world. My desire was that my son would have the freedom and hunger to explore those things. I wanted my son to have his dad's brain--his intelligence, his creativity. However, I did not want my son to suffer or inflict suffering on others like his father’s addiction to computer games did early in our marriage.
In the same way I chose to breastfeed my son as long as I could for his physical health, I decided I would hold out in exposing him to screens as long as I could for his mental and emotional health.
“Hold out as long as you can” became my mantra regarding screens and digital devices.
Well, I did hold out. And I was rewarded with a brilliant boy fascinated with writing and filming and training others.
But I didn’t hold out long enough to train him how to properly use his digital devices before he got even limited access.
The fallout from the Screen War that erupted from my mistake has been costly for our entire family. Still, our story does have a happy (not perfect) present and future. We have invested time and energy in finding an appropriate balance that works for our family’s relationship with digital devices..
Your family can too.
So, what is your mantra? Where is your line in the digital sand? I encourage you to believe it is possible for your family to use technology to nurture instead of harm your real life relationships.
With simple changes of mindset, resetting your family’s digital appetite, and employing healthy device management, you can build, or regain, the family connection you always wanted.
It is never too late.
Just don’t waste precious time getting started.
Share your mantras, decisions or convictions in the comments. We would love to have you in the Unplugged Family Group on Facebook. There, you will meet mamas rowing together in the same boat. :).