Finding Parental Peace with Technology

Finding Parental Peace with Technology

Rachel Held Evans is a writer and blogger I respect a great deal. She recently had her first child, and at the end of a gorgeous post about breastfeeding, she included a disclaimer about social media and her son:

This past year has taught me a lot about the limits and dangers of social media, so while I’ll share some reflections on motherhood from time to time, I won’t be posting pictures or details about the little guy himself on my public media channels. As a memoirist and blogger, I love sharing stories from my life with readers who care and relate, but not everything is for public consumption. Thanks ahead of time for respecting that boundary.

I’m endlessly curious about limits people decide to put on themselves and their families when it comes to social media, technology and screens. Held Evans’ decision is an interesting one, especially coming from a person who is so successful with media as part of her career. Her decision is striking in its intentionality and its departure from the emerging norm. There is a decision she is making between what is private and public in terms of personal information. The best we can be is intentional. We all must come to our own peace with technology.

Wanting to dig further, especially as more and more friends were asking me about how I deal with technology as a mom, I turned to some of the most intentional women I know. I surveyed the Enough ladies about their own self restrictions, tips and tricks. Some themes emerged:

Think about what technology you own and where it is located.

Susan didn’t own a TV for eight years, and now it is not in their main room. Heidi’s 1993 TV is in the basement. Emily has no TV. Heidi and Susan don’t own smartphones. I do, but I keep the notifications off and put it in my office. I use it like a landline as much as possible.

Have some rules built into the daily routine.

Emily’s family watches about one movie a week together with pizza and brownies. Her daughter can watch 30 minutes a day. These guidelines have helped Amelia not overthink. Susan’s family watches TV occasionally, but only as a family. Heidi’s daughter gets about 15 minutes of a show before bath each night. The family watches together.

Model the behavior for your kids.

If your kids don’t see you glued to your devices, they may not be as interested in them. The kids can call Susan out if they see her on her iPad for more than 30 minutes at a time. I keep all my screens in one room. The room is not off limits to my son, but he doesn’t associate the room with play or fun. I am less tempted, making me a better model. If I do use my phone to send a text or answer a call, I let my boy be curious about it and try to redirect him back to playing. I approach it neutrally like a tool and hope that feeling is contagious. Heidi stopped watching television about four years ago with the exception of the Olympics, and immediately noticed a shift in her for the better.

Have fun alternatives. Saying no to one thing is saying yes to another. 

There is a critical moment when your day is officially complete in your mind. In that moment, Mary Beth says, if she can pick up a book or her journal right after dinner, she is less likely to even think about the television. She doesn’t crave plugging in because deep down she prefers connecting to herself. Heidi prioritizes outside time and library time with her daughter. Susan takes her kids to the library and YWCA on a routine basis. At the library, they can get as many books as they want on any topic they are interested in. If the alternative to screen time is enticing and life-giving, we won’t feel deprived at all.

Avoid absolutes.

Don’t overthink it. There seems to be a lot of parental fear floating around about technology, and for good reason. But kids sense fear, and fear doesn’t serve us. Allowing absolutely no interaction with technology may give it too much power. It becomes the forbidden fruit. My friend talks about the kids who only want to eat junk food and watch TV when they come to her house because it is totally off limits at home. The Enough ladies have not said no to their kids. They look for moderation that works for their family. Susan, for example, has an online math program and one game on her iPad that the boys play. It helps them feel a part of things.

In working with teenagers, I can say that it only gets more complicated. The social media-saturated world these young people are growing up in is not the world I knew as a high schooler. As foreign as it is, it is clear to me that young people benefit by adults who engage with them in making personal decisions of etiquette and technology hygiene. I highly recommend the work of Erin Walsh. From her talk “From Online Safety to Digital Citizenship,”  I ask three questions of teenagers as they navigate the quickly changing landscape:

Who is behind the screen?

Screens are the tool facilitating a human interaction. It can be a wonderful tool that helps people feel more connected instead of less. When looking at a screen, we can also forget that it is actually a person we are interacting with on the other side. When is it time to have human interactions without the screen in between?

What story are you telling?

You get to decide what information you are going to make public about yourself and others. It is okay to have a private life that is not accessible to the world and sadly irretrievable. What would a stranger find out about you just by looking at your accounts?

Can you unplug?

We don’t know for sure that more screen time is worse than less. Not all screen time is equal. Screen time need not be the focus. Research does show, however, that people (not just kids) who are capable of unplugging do better in the world than people who can’t. We all have to be able to put our screens down without feeling vulnerable or detached and deal with the reality we are sitting in.

I guess all this is to say that we all have daily decisions to make about screens. There is no right or wrong way to proceed. Intentionality helps us in our journey to come to our own peace with technology. For me, it helps to talk to other people about it. So please join the conversation!