Allowing Children Autonomy with Technology
Recently I've been hearing more and more about technology and kids. I notice it ebbs and flows through my social media feeds. Usually I do not engage in the tech debate. Who am I to say what you do within your home with your children? But I see so much more than a tech debate in these posts and comments. I see parenting decisions based on fear and worry and control.
Sometimes I do offer an opinion or different point of view so that people can see that there are ways to parent that are not based on control, fear, and worry. We tend to take the "observe before reacting" stance in most parenting situations. (Please keep in mind that if there are safety concerns in any area of our child's life, we take quick action. Safety concerns, and perceived safety concerns will have to be another blog post).
I should start by saying we treat our kids as full humans. By that I mean, we do not see them as sponges needing to be filled...unless you mean filled with love. We are here to facilitate their growth. We are here to provide nurturance, healing, and help when they ask for it. We do not believe our role is to control their day-to-day lives, pretend to know where they should end up in life, or who they should be. We SEE them as they are now. We connect with them now. We support them now.
So, as you read on, please keep in mind that these are our basic parenting techniques, beliefs, and ideals. We do not always meet our own ideals, but we are learning to put away our pride much quicker these days.
Also, since this is my blog, I will be pretty frank in this article. You are welcome to stop reading whenever you want to...or...keep reading and allow your uneasiness to settle and ask yourself the hard questions that lead to new growth.
Screen time: please stop using the phrase "screen time." There are so many things people are doing while using technology. That phrase does not begin to describe what people are doing. It actually seems to signify (at least by what I can infer from people's comments or articles) that it is something mindless. Now, if they're playing an "educational" game, it may be mindless. Have any of you ever played the "educational" games? They are totally boring. And, why is it that we cannot allow kids to just play games? Why does everything need to have the "educational" tag on it? Do people (and companies) really think that children do not learn unless they are doing something "educational?" The thing is, we are all learning every day. All. Day.
The second we wake up we are noticing the time, how bright it is, and how our body is feeling. If your house is like ours, then you, like me, are also lying awake (eyes closed) taking an inventory of the voices you are hearing. How many children are awake? Do they sound like like they are getting breakfast? Are they arguing? How can they already be arguing? Which show have they put on? All of these inputs are teaching us. We are absorbing information immediately, and so are all children. Unless you are in a dark box all day long with no input, you are learning.
Earlier this morning I typed the first part of the article on my phone when I had a few minutes to myself. Then we had friends come over for a few hours to play (mainly outside) and while we were chatting about what we have noticed about technology and kids we see this:
They were playing Simon Says and pretending to meditate. It was hilarious. Something we did not encounter once today: our kids begging to play a video game or begging to watch a show.
When children have been under control in different areas of their life such as technology use, food, or their time, they tend to feel as if there is a scarcity. If there are foods that are restricted, and the child has a chance to have that food, many times they will want more and more of it not understanding when their body has had enough. If they have strict control over their technology use, such as 30 minutes per day, or earning an hour of tech use after chores, etc, they will always feel a scarcity.
If you were told that you only had 1 hour of phone use per day, would you feel a lack? Would you feel like you had to be on it and totally sucked into it for that one hour? Would you be angry when the timer went off and the phone locked you out? What if you were in the middle of creating a video or sending an email, or even playing a tough level on a game and it shut off? When you are in the middle of a creative moment, your brain is "zoned in" (Rico's term). You are fixated on it because you are problem solving, being creative, and in a flow. It is frustrating to have your concentration broken. That's true for all humans! Of course children will have a hard time when their concentration and creativity are broken for what seems to be trivial reasons.
Most children nowadays have little control over their lives. My father in-law loves to tell us that at 6 years old he would be gone from home all day, with a little lunch his mom had packed, riding his horse. He would be home in time for dinner. He had SO much free time. He had SO much uninterrupted time. Today though, our children's time is so tightly monitored...they're suffocating. If they are public schooled they have most of their days filled with complete structure and control. I am not just talking about the many hours spent in the school building. They also have to wake (many times before their body is telling them to wake), in order to leave at a certain time. They get home and many children have homework and extracurricular activities, family events, and then dinner and bedtime all scheduled out. If they are lucky they may have an hour to themselves. If that one hour is controlled yet again, I can see why they might eventually start withdrawing from their family! They may be seeking some space that allows them to feel free.
Whenever people feel totally controlled, they start withdrawing, they start hiding, and they start finding things they can control in their life. For me, I controlled food and my alcohol consumption. It led to anxiety, and many other issues that I had to work through as an adult. If we allow our children the space to learn and discover as children, and make smaller mistakes while under our care, they can learn what their bodies and minds prefer. They grow up feeling a sense of safety and support rather than control. When they feel understood and supported, they light up. They thrive. They work through the mistakes and understand that they are responsible for their actions.
We, like most parents nowadays, started parenting with the same mentality of our culture. If we control it they won't want it very much and we won't be "harming" them. So, we limited media but then we would sometimes be more lacsadaisical with our rules. On top of being controlling, we were confusing our children!
When we decided to start unschooling, we also had been hearing a lot about this idea of lack. When children feel a lack they will ask for what they are lacking often (or begging!). When they have an abundance of things, they no longer feel like it is going to be taken away at any moment and so they relax. They allow things to be a part of their life without controlling their life. We decided on a six month experiment. During that time we weren't going to control their media use and just watch what happened. We also decided that we would engage with them when they were doing things. We would sit next to them and watch them play their games, ask questions, and be involved. If they were watching a show, we would watch with them.
For the first two weeks our kids literally did nothing but watch tv, eat, and sleep. I could tell they were heavily detoxing from our control. It was definitely hard for us to watch them do that all day. We would offer to do other things, go to the park, etc, but they always had something they wanted to watch. Things that they hadn't had the chance to fully engage with before were now available to them and they were taking every moment because they were worried it would disappear again. After two weeks they stopped watching tv so much. They started playing outside again. They started playing imaginative games again and started re-integrating everything they loved in life. Now, they play their Kindles, watch tv, play with friends, go to the park, play in the river, do science experiments, complete art projects, plan activities, and so much more. Technology is integrated into their life in a seamless way. We ask Siri questions often, google hairstyle images, play Wii together, enjoy movie nights and use technology is so many other ways. We are helping them to integrate technology into their everyday lives because that is the world we are in now. Trying to create children who live like the pioneers is just illogical. Technology is here. If we allow our children the time and space to integrate it early in life they will be prepared to grow with it and understand their relationship to it.
Some days, and weeks our technology use is higher than others. Usually in the winter we use technology way more. When it's nice outside we find many other things to do. Right now the kids are trying to soak in as much swimming time as possible because they are finally feeling confident and learning to swim trumps playing Minecraft, and many other options. They also realize that the outdoor pool only lasts so long and Netflix is available whenever they want it. They use critical thinking and problem solving when trying to decide if they would rather play a video game or play with friends. Sometimes their bodies are tired and they want to relax and play a game. Other times, their minds and bodies want extra movement and they play all day long without even looking at any type of screen. Every day is different.
The other thing that I have found that is so wonderful is that we experience so much connection with them through technology. They are always wanting to show us their new creations and new games. The girls love showing us when they beat new levels on the games they play or the fun dress-up they create on their different girly games. Because we do not demonize it, it is fun and they feel open with us about it. We try to be as engaged as possible but sometimes the games they are playing are just not appealing to us. And that's okay too.
God has provided this earth for us. Everything on it can be used. It can be used for good or for evil. We have the choice every day to do the right thing. Although God has guidelines for us, he does not force anyone to abide by it. Although we can inform our children about why we do not allow certain video games in our home, that does not mean we can control them when they are outside the home. They can make their own choices and we can discuss how their hearts and minds feel after they play a game we don't allow at home. So, although we have boundaries in our own home, we do not force our ideals on them. We hope that they will learn and also that they will trust us. We tell them often that the boundaries we have set for our home are first for safety and second because we own our house. We get to set boundaries that keep our home feeling nice and that help us all feel as much peace as possible. It is up to them to be responsible for the attitude they have in the house and they get the chance to experience what effect technology can have on their bodies.
They are so intuitive. They are so trustworthy. Give them a chance, a real chance, to show you that. You can always go back to controlling ways. I guess God could go back to controlling ways too, but God doesn't do that. If we are striving to be like God, we should be striving to provide liberty and agency to our children in every possible area of their life. Let go of scarcity. You will find that there's a lot less stress. There's a lot less worry. There's a lot more connection, love, harmony, and positivity. Try it out. It's more peaceful.