What was that noise? I was sitting alone having breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants the other day and was startled. At the table across from me, two elementary-age boys were having a meal with a woman who appeared to be their grandmother – and they were having a conversation. A real conversation!
There were no devices on the table. They talked about origins of menu items, then the related geography, then some of the politics from each region. The grandmother spoke to them as intellectual equals while answering their questions and sharing information. I’m not in the habit of eavesdropping, but I must admit I did that day. I was captivated. It’s been too long since I’ve seen children at a restaurant table without a device. And it was a joy to hear how engaged all three of them were. Honestly, I had tears in my eyes.
I started thinking about what I wanted most to share with families this holiday season, and, as it turns out, it is what that family shared – the gift of conversation. Parents, it’s time to stop letting devices babysit our children. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and rely on it throughout the day. But there is a time and place to be unplugged. Devices are no substitute for talking, laughing, and sharing life “live in person” with each other. Especially our children. If you don’t share your ideas, intellect, and emotional support with your children on a daily basis, then they will get what they need elsewhere. And that often is disastrous.
Texas Children’s Hospital recently reported emergency room visits for mental health crises in children and teens are up 800%. Yes, you saw that correctly – eight hundred percent! Our children need US, not the Internet or their peers to help them build a foundation of stability.
Are you are stuck in the quagmire of device overload for your children? Have you have gotten into the habit of allowing devices at the dinner table or in the car, and want to make a change but don’t know how? Here are five simple steps to make a change.
Make up your mind. You may be “the unpopular parent” temporarily, but it’s not a contest. YOU are the parent and you have the vision of what you’d like for your children – popularity is not part of the deal.
Have a conversation with your children and tell them what you expect and how you will be making changes. Be very specific. For example, you might say something like, “We will all turn off/check-in our devices for at least 30 minutes at dinner, or when we go out to a restaurant.”
Make sure you do not have your own devices on during the “conversation time” so that you can be a role model. Nothing ruins this plan more quickly than a parent who is scrolling on their cell phone when children are required to be device-free.
Have a plan for conversation starters, which might be needed in the beginning.
Be firm and implement the plan. Stick to your plan. Remember, it takes 4 -6 weeks to develop a habit, and consistency over time is critical to turn the tide.
Parents, it’s time to take back our roles as primary influencers of our children. Since when did teenage internet “influencers” and video game buddies know more about what our children need than us? We have let the pendulum swing too far, and it’s time to adjust. You can do it! It starts with a conversation.