Our kids are growing up in a 500-channel universe. They spend 44.5 hours weekly in front of an electronic screen. There is a 33 percent decline in families eating dinner together and a 100 percent drop in household conversations, according to a recent study done at the University of Minnesota.
Yet parents are perplexed because their children won’t “friend” them on Facebook. They text their children to come downstairs for dinner. Two-year-olds are mimicking Mommy by “talking” on her (actual) cell phone.
The question is asked on sheknows.com: “Would you let a stranger spend several hours with your child, communicating values, distracting them from homework, creating separation and distance from family? Even worse, would you let a stranger into your child’s bedroom?”
Let me assume that your answer is a resounding “no!”
What can we do to reconnect? Create a ritual that includes one-on-one time, such as reading together. One book that bridges the generation gap is Judi Barrett’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” The absurd tall tale provides lots of “food for thought.” I can almost guarantee that you will find what to talk about when you discuss the people in the town of CHEWANDSWALLOW who eat whatever falls from the sky! Orange juice rain. Floating pancakes. Stale bread boats. Mashed potatoes blanketing the ground. Pickles in the living room. Hamburgers down the chimney….
Seriously consider a camp experience during the summer, where most camps’ cultures rely upon severing the electronic tether in favor of activities that are connected to the natural world and friendships that require a conscious commitment of the five senses! Camp fosters social interaction and displaces the attraction of filling time with electronic pursuits.
Institute some family rules around the world of computers and cell phones and video games: No texting at the dinner table or in the car. A limit on hours of television-watching. A ban on games like Grand Auto Theft. No Game Boys during family time, which is dedicated occasions to do things with each other (maybe even watch TV together or designate a family check-in before bed or do something active with one another).
And here is the cardinal family rule: We eat dinner together! (Make Mealtime Family Time.) I don’t say this lightly. I definitely recall the many nights when I was starving or the kids were sleepy or the husband was running late – but traditions are the stuff that character is made of, and I strongly believe that eating dinner together, at least several nights per week, is an inoculation against the potential damage of living in an electronic world.
This is one of my tried-and-true favorites, especially for pre-teens and teens: get them in the car with you and drive, drive, drive! They are captive, and if you are subtle enough, you can engage them in meaningful conversation. And be creative about other opportunities that simulate confinement. Trying times call for resourceful solutions. Check out Conversations on the Go: Clever Questions to Keep Teens and Grown-ups Talking.
George Santayana said, “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”
My last caveat, which I will revisit in more detail in future posts: you don’t have to be your child’s friend. S/he has many of those; but only one mom and one dad, or some variation thereof. You are the mentor, the coach, the referee, the cheerleader, the commissioner… you decide the rules of the game and then enforce them. They can protest, but you have the final word. No replays needed.
When they get to the Hall of Fame, i.e., become strong, competent, caring individuals, they will say, “Thank you.”