Thursday, January 9, 2014

Parents We Have a New Job Description

When you were a kid, how much screen time were you allowed?  I have no recollection of clear rules about how much TV we could watch (TV being the only screen we owned). This is possibly because I remember almost no clear rules from my childhood (the two rules I remember: work hard and be honest). More likely there weren't strict rules for TV time, because there was no need. After all, there were only 5 channels and cartoons were only on some of the time. Either way, parenting clearly includes a new set of tasks that it didn't for the last generation. We have to limit screen time, lest our kids brains turn to mush (or so the fear mongering media warns). We have to monitor text messages and Facebook and Instagram and internet use. We have to teach our children how to interact with technology. All of this is utterly exhausting!
So, when it comes to technology, I'm taking the principle approach, which is this: teach sound principles and then let them manage themselves when they have demonstrated reasonable (though not perfect) capacity to do so. The other approach is constant and intense supervision coupled with restrictions. I find the latter method to be time consuming and ineffective. Also, it requires unlimited amounts energy and consistency, two things I lack.
Here is the principle I attach to media and technology, a mantra I repeat so often that my kids go catatonic by the third word: every thing that we bring into our lives brings both a burden and a blessing. Before we choose to let something into our lives, we must identify what the burden will be and what the blessing will be. And we must carefully weigh them against each other. If the blessing outweighs the burden, then perhaps it is worth welcoming into our lives. It sounds simple on the face of it, but it is often counter-intuitive. For example, almost no one would look at an ipad and think to themselves, "this will be a burden and a blessing." Most of us thing, "BLESSING, BLESSING, BLESSING!! Please come into my life!" Just like we thought, "Oh yes, a machine that washes clothes! That will be so marvelous and save me so much time." So, a hundred years ago, they spent a few hours a week washing the two or three outfits by hand. Now we spend at least that much time washing 10 times the amount of clothing. Burden or blessing? Clearly, both.
Once we have welcomed some technology or form of social media into our lives, the guiding principle becomes using it in such a way that it's burden is never allowed to overtake its blessing (i.e. so much time on Facebook, we miss meaningful interaction with our kids).
Banning teens access to technology and social media does not seem realistic or prudent to me. Allowing them unlimited access to technology and social media without any guiding principles and on-going discussions about how to manage it in our lives seems equally faulty. A friend recently said to me, "I don't think most teens are able to edit well enough to be able to use social media responsibly. Many adults can't even manage it!" In there is the key to my view. Knowing how to manage technology and social media is not an innate skill, nor one that comes automatically with age. It is learned! I want my kids to learn it from me and with me. I want them to try and when they manage poorly, I want them still at home with me where we have the space to discuss and modify and learn and improve. My hope is this: by the time they get out into the big, broad world on their own, they will have honed and refined skills that will enable them to interact with technology and social media in a meaningful and responsible way. I have the same hope for myself! Let me know what you think.

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