One of my proudest moments to date (besides becoming a mom and starting my own busniess) was when I raised my hand at the Zen Parenting Let's Get Real Conference and spoke on the mic in front of my peers, idols and fellow parents about tackling the use of technology with today's children.
With Dr. Shefali Tsabary no more than a foot in front of me and the room filled with several other teachers and mentors of mine (Dr. John Duffy, Dr. Therese Rowley, Cathy & Todd Adams and MANY more) I decided to take the floor. I couldn't be happier that I chose to speak up because it paved the way for me to get to know many fabulous people in my field (which means everything to me since I firmly believe this needs to be a community of support).
Cathy and Todd had been discussing how technology is this unknown territory in parenting and how we might begin to navigate through it mindfully and consciously. They had mentioned that balance was certainly something to strive for, but what exactly is it? Is there even such a thing as reaching balance in parenthood?
Todd thought not so much. He went on to say that in his opinion, finding balance is simply recognizing when you are off balance and bringing yourself back whenever you can, and that this constant state of ebbing and flowing through life is as 'perfect' as it gets.
Cathy added that the best way to approach our child's use of technology was a 'practise what you preach' mentality, role modelling our control, as the parents, over our use of technology. This means that while you are asking your child to put down their tablet, you are not saying it infront of your computer or with your smartphone in hand. She went on to talk about establishing clear set boundaires meant to be discussed with your child before inroducing things like cell phones and ipads.
After Cathy and Todd spoke they graciously asked the audience to weigh in. Did we have questions about what they had said? Did we have something to add? That was when I saw an opportunity to share my personal thoughts on the subject since I had recently uncovered a mantra that I felt would be perfect in helping new parents navigate the use of techonology with their children: view. read. do.
I chose this mantra with the idea that technology can actually be a really great tool for fresh ideas, connecting activities and even developmental growth with our children.
From what I understand there seems to be a pretty clear split when it comes to television, ipads, cellphones, etc. Some parents are on the side of no screen time at all, while others use the screen as a moment of space from their children, almost as though they have an extra set of hands so they can get things done.
Aiming to cast no judgment on your preference, I hope to provide parents with an idea that might make each side of that spectrum a little less rigid and a little more balanced. Here is goes:
View: this is the technology part. Wether it be watching Sesame Street on tv or playing a popular game on the tablet, the focus here is engaging in it together. No you won't get that break you were hoping for, or check off that task on your to-do list, nor will you be able to feed your ego and say that your child is proudly "screen free".
What you will get is time to engage in something at your child's level, within their interests, giving them a chance to teach you something. If your child is under 12 months old, maybe they laugh and smile when they see Elmo, or if your child is 3 years old they might show you how proud they are that they can match colours within a game on their tablet. No matter what that technological moment is, what matters most is that you are there, being what Dr. John Duffy so eloquintly calls, an available parent.
Next we go on to the:
Read: this is the part where you connect their interests in another engaging, off-screen way. You show them that not only are you available, but you are present, you are listening, you understand them and you see what they like. Finding a book with Elmo or a theme around colours is easy. Truthfully there is a children's book for just about any age appropriate lesson or interest. This is about showing them that you have listened and fun is not only limited to the screen. It is about welcoming your child to the wonderful world of books. Cultivating an interest and love around literature is simply showing your child that the world of stories and make-believe can be just as fun. Books often come at a different pace than the screen and can allow you and your child to connect through conversation and words. Your child will feel understood and you will feel that appreciation in everything they do.
On to the:
Do: the part where we put down the screens, close the books and start exploring! The doing is the part where we show our children that our interests don't depend on a screen or an author's imagination. The doing is within us. It is the part where we take what we have learned from our children and play presently with them. Wether it be hide and seek with an Elmo stuffy, or picking out the natural colours of our world on a walk, the doing is about following our child's interests and interacting outside the box. In doing so, we not only connect with our children on their terms, in several different ways, but we actually model the use of technology in a balanced multi-dimensional way.
I err on the side of balance being something we as parents should strive for, knowing that it is not something we reach, so much that it is something we always work at, much like Todd had said. With that notion, I created this mantra as a simple and memorable way to give myself (and others) some space when it comes to the use of technology with our children. Rather than being afraid of screen time or feeling guilty if/and when my daughter uses it, I use this mantra to remind myself just how possible it is to be aware of what matters while being open to this new age that we have little choice but to embrace.
Technology is here. It has been here for a while, and it will forever be creeping further into our day to day lives. This is certain. Truthfully, I am even excited for the future of technology and where it could take us. The possibilites are really endless (as the saying goes).
We are knowingly stuck in this place where most of today's parents did not grow up with a world filled with mobile screens. It is beyond okay to feel unsure about it. Admiting your fears and confronting the uncomfortable questions is essential in our personal growth as parents. This in turn has lasting impacts on our child's personal growth.
I hope that this mantra not only gives you permission to explore the screen in a positive way but that it also provides those who are comfortable with screen time a way to also use it differently, taking it as a chance to get to know your child and truly connect with their spirit and their soul on their terms. So go ahead, view. read. do. and always,