Having just watched my youngest of five children launched out the door, I began to think about the moments and opportunities I might have missed before she left.
Don’t get me wrong, 19 years with my firecracker of a daughter had provided plenty of opportunities for positive and negative connections. She and I had spent countless hours taking walks together and sharing cheesy movies that no one else could tolerate on a Sunday night. Together we discussed exploitation of younger girls and the possibility of date rape as presented by Alec Baldwin and Beyoncé. The conversations were not deeply intellectual but through these conversations we talked about things that might not otherwise be addressed.
Looking back, it was the times we spent together without gadgets and electronics that counted the most. The walks together or the two weeks we spent in the summer without Internet access was when we really learned the most about each other. It was during those times my relationship with her grew and blossomed. It’s what I miss the most. A distance between us began the summer after 8th grade. It is the age that many young people should begin to individuate, yet I must admit it caught me off guard. Suddenly, the friends counted more and Internet and cell phones were a huge priority. It really was a challenge for her to separate, and to be honest it was hard for me too.
I think to a pre-teen and a young teen the Internet has taken the role of the wise old friend or relative. What I mean by that is the Internet becomes the place to go for information and access to the world outside of the teen’s world. What’s the downside? The downside is that as parents our influence is watered down sooner than it might be without the constant input from outside of our immediate sphere. We lose a connection because we are not as interesting or as informed as what the world of the Internet provides. Losing connection too soon leaves kids dealing with information they are not ready to handle. It also leaves us with very little understanding of what they are learning.
How do we combat the impact of technology and the wall it creates between parents and children?
- Don’t expect to eliminate technology completely from your children’s life. If you do have a technology free house be aware they may be going on the Internet elsewhere. (One client of mine at a technology free Waldorf school had a face book page at a friend’s house).
- Look for opportunities where you and your child can unplug together. Outdoor activities like walking, etc. bring us together. Nature has a great way of showing us another side to things.
- Junior high or middle school years are important times to strengthen the bond that will inevitably be stressed during the high school years. Kids are beginning to push away but hold on for just a bit longer.
- Let them teach you about the latest trends on the Internet. By the time I learned about Snap chat it had been all but replaced by Integra. There is no way we can stay on top of all the latest trends without help from them.
- Take the time to really listen to what they have to say. Sometimes we are too quick to lecture them about our world view, forgetting they may have their own unique viewpoint.
- Unplugging does not just mean stepping away from electronics, it also means means reframing our own agendas and needs when connecting with our children. Create agenda based times to connect and really get to know your children.