Episode 18: Mindfully Managing Technology . . .Is It Possible?
I want to acknowledge that this is a loaded topic. Tech is so overwhelming to most parents that they don't touch it. It is relegated to a closet way, way, way in the back of our mind. Curiosity and self-compassion will help us build a roadmap for how to use mindful parenting to help teach our children how to be conscious consumers of the screens and media we are constantly inundated with. Often parents wave their hand when I ask about this, trying to bat away the topic and they let out an exhausted sigh, "Yes, it's a problem. . . " Often it feels like a problem so big that they are not sure where to start. So here are places to start, small things you can do to have a big impact on the way your child relates to media and technology.
1. What are the pros and cons of your child's screen time? The most important thing you can do is to create an inventory for the pros and cons of your child's screen consumption. You will need all your mindfulness tools here if you are going to get any honesty out of yourself and be able to tolerate it. So make sure you have a little peace before starting this activity and watch your self-jusgement- just the facts mam! This helps you to be self-aware of how screentime is playing out in your particular dynamic in your particular family. Pros: I watched Big Bird when I was little and I'm fine, right? This is how my teen stays connected to her friends when she isn't at school. I am able to unload the dishwasher and pay bills while Paw Patrol is on and it may not be pretty but these things need to get done! My child seems happier when we are out to dinner and he gets to play with his tablet, I'm pretty sure he is learning a few things too? It's nice for my middleschooler to learn to wind down after school and soccer by watching a couple shows- plus he leaves us and his sister a lone for an hour. Her school sent home these tablets for homework and her grades have not suffered, even if she is talking to her friends while she works. Cons: My child throws a fit after I try to turn the TV/tablet off- that can't be good, right? I can't tell if my teen is doing homework or is just playing around and she is on that thing all evening now! My kids take their phones to bed and I think it's affecting their sleep. I have become nervous to ask my child to get off their phone, stop playing video games etc. She used to be outside all the time and now she is just on her phone.
2. What are they watching or where are they going online? Do you know what your child is viewing or what apps they are using? Don't underestimate this. Not all media aimed at children is created equal. Does it support your values? Check it out. They will appreciate your non-judgemental curiosity about what they are interested in. If you don't like it, you are allowed to say no! And there are so many different mointoring programs out there we could do multiple epsiodes on just that. We won't, but if you feel like you need help with monitoring- it's out there.
3. Why are they using the screen time? Get really curious again here. Is it to self soothe, is it because they are so hyper active that you need a break? Is it because they don't have any friends other than the virtual world? Is it because you are dealing with your own issues and it feels like they are pestering you? This is the crux of a lot of it and where the deepest parenting work lays, don't be ashamed of your answers. If you want to change your family's tech patterns, listen to yourself here because this is where the change will grow from. Is this a band-aid for a deepr issue? The first step is admitting that perhaps it is. Admit and then don't even do anything about it for a bit, for weeks! But don't push it away and go into denial. Once you acknowledge it you will be the change.
4. What does their behavior tell you? Parents want to know, is screen time bad for their child. Well, if good or bad are my choices, as a professional, no it's not good for your child. But let's look at each child as an individual, how old are they? How much screen time are they getting and what does the rest of their day look like? Do you think they have the capacity to not watch TV or take a break from their phone or will they have a huge meltdown? Can they have a conversation in the real world? Do they maintain friendships in the real world? How are their grades? Do they create as well as consume? Do they read, do art, play? How is their sleep? Are they unusually aggressive? What is your child's individual behavior telling you?
5. Use this as a jumping off point for an important conversation. So now you have looked closely at the pros/cons of your child's screen time, what they are consuming and how this is all effecting their behavior. If something makes you worried or concerned, it may move you to take action. This can mean limiting screen time but it can also mean sitting down with your child and speaking to them about being a safe citizen online, the importance of physical activity and a balanced day, consequences for agreession and violence, what to do if bullied online or checking in on body image issues.
6. What are you modeling? If you are obsessed with your screen they are not going to be buying what your selling when you tell them to "go outside and play." It just doesn't work that way- how much easier would this parenting gig be if it did though? These kids frustratingly do what we do and not what we say and gosh darn it require us to be the selves we want them to be. Take this as an invitation to indulge in a real world conversation, an actual nap, or step outside into the sun- and attend to your health, your relationships and your vitamin D defficiency.
7. Have a family screen detox experiment. Be scientists together and curiously observe everything about this experiemnet. What is it like for your family? How long can you guys last? What tech time is useful and what tech time is a giant waste you are happy to be free of? Suggestion: Do not state, "We are doing a screen detox due to all of your terrible behavior!" Be the leader of your home you wish your boss was at work. Let your family know, "We are doing this, it's not a choice and I think it will be a chance for us to practice being more healthy and a chance for us to focus on other things." Use your own words but stay away from anything shaming, it's not the friendliest invitation for any of us to try something new.