A post several months ago, on Mashable.com, caught my eye. It was called “5 Lessons for Parenting in the Digital Age” and had a nice list of things to consider when parenting our digital natives – kids that are immersed in a digital world that excites and challenges today’s parents.
The list included:
- Technology No Longer Has Boundaries
- Know When to Cut it Off
- The Difference Between Preference and Addiction
- Focus on Technology That Truly Connects Us to Our Kids
- Model the Balance
Up until number five, I was feeling pretty smug … I have a Kindergartner and I have given these first four things a lot of consideration, carefully monitoring ‘screen time’, discussing media limits with my child, and keeping up to date on the digital revolution. The media that happens to connect my child and I, as luck would have it, are digital picture books.
But then I stopped on number five … “Model the Balance”. I learned in graduate school about how modeling matters for young children, and how parents are powerful influences. They can use this power to try to model healthy lifestyle choices, like eating right, exercising, etc. But knowing a lot about the importance of parental modeling from my social work experience didn’t make me much of an expert when it came to doing it perfectly in front of my own child.
I find it infinitely easier to make healthy choices for my child than to change to healthier habits for myself. Like many moms, I juggle a lot of roles over the course of 24 hours and find myself conflicted about how to get everything done. So sometimes I do two things at once … maybe even three (or four). Some might call this multitasking, an idea that was at first hailed as brilliant but now is understood to mean doing nothing with full focus. So when I mix any other ‘task’ with the time I spend with my child, I need to remember that my parenting isn’t getting my full attention either.
So, as much as I want to tell myself that I have #5 covered … I know it has only become easier to be distracted over the last couple years. And I know that distraction is often from social media. At first, I told myself I was doing a good job, at least while my child is actually watching me … so late night obsessions with Twitter or Facebook could at least be my dirty little secret.
But this creeping anxiety came over me as the months passed … was I really modeling balance? My husband and I are working day and night these days, I realized, building a web & app based business. Of course, this means we’re on computers a lot. With social media as part of our project, I know I’ve been half-focused on my smart phone a lot of times when I’m also with my little boy. It just takes a second to tweet something or leave a quick comment on Facebook, right?
I don’t even want to count up the hours I can easily waste in a week on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Google+ and now Pinterest. But those few minutes spent staring at my phone, computer or iPad really do add up to hours (I hope not to days, but I’m afraid to do the math). And even when that time has some elements of work involved, the reality is that I am often sucked into relatively meaningless activities that not only suck time from other more important endeavors (and people), but also leave me feeling anxious and exhausted.
So I started trying to cut back on some aspects of how I use social media. I try to limit it to certain periods of day, nothing strict, but I set a limit and say, I’ll check on Twitter for 15 minutes, then get back to writing, for instance. I also have gradually tried to stick to interactions that are enjoyable, challenge my thinking and/or keep me connected in ways that go beyond the digital world.
Lately, I think a lot about how my own relationship with media in general impacts my child, not only the literal modeling he sees but the impression he’ll get over time about the value of balancing media with other activities. This means more walks, trips to the playground, family dinners and board games, not just less interactive media. I know it isn’t easy to find balance, and I’ll be the first to admit that I may teeter close to but never quite achieve it myself. But there’s an adventure to be had in trying.
Some links for further exploration:
Video: This cool youtube is an introduction to the concepts behind The Information Diet, a new book by Clay Johnson. The Information Diet makes the case that it’s time we started being as selective with the information we consume as we are the food that we eat, then describes what a healthy diet and healthy habits look like. For more information: http://informationdiet.com
Post: 5 Lessons for Parenting in the Digital Age, Mashable.com
Post: How Social Media is Ruining Your Mind, SingularityHub.com
Post: Modeling Healthy Behavior at Home & School, HealthyAlberta.com
Post: Sherry Turkle’s Chronic Digital Dualism Problem, TheSocietyPages.com
Do you have any recommended resources to share? Please leave us a comment!