As parents, family time is important to us, it always has been. Now with teenagers, it’s imperative to get to them before their friends do; we don’t take family time for granted anymore; we put it on the calendar. Moving right along, let’s talk technology. Technology?! “How is that related to Family time?” Technology is everywhere we turn. Whether at school, work, home, or driving to the above, technology is with us constantly. We no longer exist without technology, it’s amazing, wonderful and helpful, yet has immense power to distract, undermine, and damage. And worst of all disrupt our most important immediate family connections.
Family relationships are complex; that was true long before technology permeated culture. Regardless of how complex it may be, family provides the BEST foundation for meeting a critical need; the basic human need for love and connection.
Families have a lot of competition, for time and attention, threatening to disrupt this important foundation of love and connection. Technology is a major culprit, particularly because the invasion is so subtle. What started as a fun, occasional (‘keep them busy’) diversion has easily become a relentless pursuit. This pursuit undermines the real value in family. But why? Why is it so prevalent? The answer goes back to connection and belonging. Social media in particular has captured not only our teens but also so many adults. Let’s consider how technology responds to the need for connection and love.
Recently I heard Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a psychologist, speak on “Parenting in the Digital World”. It was so interesting to hear him explain how cell phones and social media in particular are a direct outcome of our search to fill a need for connection. In essence what is a happening is this; families are in competition with digital devices and online connections/ ‘friends’. As a result they are depleting our most important relationships – immediate family.
Here is what I observe; by providing a very broad, instant, but shallow reach technology gives a sense of belonging, yet the very shallow depth misses the rich rewards of genuine, deep connection, love and acceptance. The immediate maintenance required for this width takes so much time and energy for up-keep that it trumps the deeper, truly fulfilling relationships. Dr. Neufeld reminds us that children’s relational needs are met by those responsible FOR them. This includes parents, primarily, but also teachers, grandparents, and youth leaders. Children become like those they spend time with; they learn and emulate the values around them; ideally those responsible for them.
What values are being gained on I-Pads, Facebook, X-Box, YouTube and texting, just to name a few? Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s ‘not all bad’, however the ‘not all bad’ is in strong competition for what is best, excellent, and valuable. As parents do we settle for major influences on our kids that at best are ‘not all bad’?
As a wise intentional parent, take a moment to stop and consider what technology and social media teaches kids to emulate and value. You fill in the blanks for your family. Each is unique, yet we have similarities too.
I am not suggesting we stop all the above mediums; what I am proposing is that we create balance with intentionality in our decisions. We cannot go back and undo the digital age, nor do we want to, but we can and should be intentional about creating real connecting moments and set priorities based on the values of ‘our’ family.
Two simple ideas that help balance the competition of technology:
- No devices while driving around town, use this time as ‘connection’ time,
- Family time: a board game, eating out, eating in (something special), a walk, something together with everyone having fun, no interruptions!
Family is a special place to connect, belong, love and be loved. Each person feeling valued and a special part of the family is key. Yes, we all have our moments of fighting over stupid things, being selfish, and not getting along (part of our humanness). Acknowledging this as part of family helps us to move on, get help when needed, love more deeply when we forgive, and get through hard times together and stay united. Each family picture is enhanced and richer with the more eclectic ‘colors and flavors’ that shared experiences bring. They create a unique past, present, and future shared together by being a family.
Family Time Challenge: Unplugged
So here is the challenge: During your next family day declare a ‘No Technology Day’; use this special day as a family to play a board game, go for a walk, eat something special and share the value of real connection by being together as a family, unplugged. Stand strong against the “Ahhh… Mom/Dad”, arguments, and eye rolling, it’s worth it!
PS Parents don’t forget to evaluate your own technology usage, dare I say compulsions? But that is for another topic for another day! Enjoy family day unplugged!
Resource Hold On To Your Kids: why parents need to matter more than peers By Dr. Gordon Neufeld