Ahhhh technology… such a blessing and a curse. I know you know what I mean. Technology is crazy cool, and can be so satisfying, helpful and entertaining. But technology is also dark; and creates greater opportunities for anxiety, problems and distraction. As you can probably tell from the alliteration in my title; I have a lot of worries about technology. As an adult I have a hard time managing technology in my own life, and as a parent, I have a large cause for concern.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being able to keep up with people that I am physically distanced from via Facebook and Instagram. I love being able to Google a recipe, shop for summer sandals, and watch Say Yes to the Dress with Jordan, all on my laptop. I love being able to text my family and friends when I’m thinking of them, or when I just want to say hi. I love that my littles can play a game together on the X-BOX. I love that when we are taking a road-trip the kids can be entertained with their Amazon tablets. I love being able to write and share this blog.
There really is beauty in convenience. BUT, (and that’s a big but) technology seems to create so many problems, and the problems have me really really shook.
One area that really worries me is the distractibility and inattentiveness that I feel growing in myself. I am finding it more and more difficult to settle and quiet myself. I am having a harder time doing a single task at a time. Every morning I wake up early for time by myself. I use this time to pray, journal, read my bible and read a book. Lately, I am having a really hard time praying. My mind will not settle. I am distracted within seconds, and have to continually call myself back. I feel like this can be attributed to my need to check my e-mail and my Instagram; and I hate that feeling. I will not allow that to be the first thing I do every morning. I know that I must ground myself into the day with depth and with gratitude; and feel so much failure in my inability to focus on that. It is really tragic that I can’t start my day off with a solid prayer.
The use of technology can also be a tremendous time suck. I am on Facebook less and less, but on Instagram more and more. There will be times that my phone is in my hand and the app is open; and I don’t even have a conscious knowledge of doing that. I also feel a lot of pressure (placed by myself) to have a flourishing Instagram account. I really really want to find success as a writer; and in my head I believe that this won’t be possible without a flourishing Instagram following. I feel like I have to be on there cultivating relationships, but feel guilty for doing so because if I am on while my kids are awake, then I know there are better uses of my time. In the time that I am again checking my Instagram for comments to reply to, I could draw a picture, play a game of Candyland, or read a book to one of my babies.
So as an individual, I am annoyed by the ways that I feel technology, namely social media, pulling on my life, but as a parent, I am scared.
My oldest is 10. Next year, when she goes onto to middle school, I will most likely get her her first phone. There are times now when we are apart that I want to send her a message; and feel like I need to be able to do so, but I do have a lot of plans in place to monitor her early phone life: she will return the phone to me in the evening, she will not have social media accounts, she will have limited apps, and she will know that every thing she does on the phone will be monitored by me. I was listening to the Selfie Podcast last week, and the hosts said something really smart. We don’t need to make our children’s phones super amazing, with internet access and a ton of cool games to pull on their attention. If their phone isn’t loaded, they won’t want to be on it as much. Genius I say!
It seems strict, but it’s smart. A middle aged child will feel tremendous pressure to be like everyone else when it comes to having a phone, and lacks the emotional intelligence to continually make smart choices. As a parent who is actively involved in every piece of her child’s phone, a lot of dumb choices will be prevented. Will she like it? No. Do I care? Sure, but being a good parent is really hard, and requires that I do lots of things that they don’t like, because it is what is best for them. She can place all of the blame on me. No, I can’t text you a pic of my boobs. My mom takes my phone at night. No, I can’t text her something mean, my mom reads my messages, and can tell when I’ve deleted them.
Studies are proving the negative affects that social media has on teenagers. They have problems with self esteem, they too have problems with focus, and they are not learning how to communicate. We’ve all seen groups of teenagers together ignoring one another for their phone screens. I don’t want that for my children. As a teacher I’ve seen year after year where the kids rush for their phone the second the final bell rings, and all walk out of school staring at their screen. This year I teach 5th grade. I have a lot of students with cell phones, which I collect in the morning. When they get their phone back in the afternoon they are so excited to look at that screen. It makes me sad.
About two years ago I read the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of American Teenagers. It shook me to the core. Here is the description of this study on Amazon. Award-winning Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales crisscrossed the country talking to more than two hundred girls between the ages of thirteen and nineteen about their experiences online and off. They are coming of age online in a hypersexualized culture that has normalized extreme behavior, from pornography to the casual exchange of nude photographs; a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism; a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills. It was scary; so so so so scary. And is it going to get better? Probably not. But as a parent, I have to do everything I can to protect my children from this normalization. Guess how many times in my life I have been solicited for nude pictures? Zero. Guess how many 7th grade girls have been in the study done in this book? About 70 %. I just can’t handle it. It makes me want to lock the front door and start a commune of 5.
So what do we do? How do we fix this? I don’t entirely know, but I know that I need to develop better habits for myself, so that what my children see is a parent engaged in life, not ruled by a screen. I need to be up front about my expectations, setting a contract for technology usage with my kids, as they are able to access it more and more. It means being the bad guy, even when it gets really really hard.
I have seen lots of practical tips:
- Turn off notifications for social apps. Responding to a comment is not an emergency.
- Set a time limit for usage each day and tell someone about it for accountability. I know that if I tell my kids that I don’t want to go on Social Media until a certain time each day they would gladly enforce it.
- Don’t keep your phone right with you every second of the day. If it’s not in your pocket; you will probably go on it less and less.
- Set limits for your kids with their devices. I recently took away my kids devices for Monday to Thursday, and guess what. Everyone is fine. They can watch a little tv, or play a few minutes of video games together on those days, but they can’t have a tiny screen to get sucked into.
- Set and enforce a contract with your older kids with cell phones. Will it be difficult? Yes! Is it worth it to protect them? Yes!
So as I navigate forward, I am going to employ more of these tips for myself. When I feel myself failing, I’m going to confront myself and reset. Because I have to. When I reflect honestly I can feel the effects of distractibility more and more in my life. And I don’t want that for myself, and I don’t want that for my children. I want to live life; not through a screen, but in person.