Monday, September 14, 2009

Parents Worry More – About Technology!

As an add-on to my last Blog, I am compelled to respond to the several parents who have emailed me with their concerns about their children’s use of technology; specifically Facebook, texting, and Internet technology in general. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about before, now there is this added question for many: is all this technology damaging my child?

There are many research findings out there that give us multiple reasons why unlimited use of technology is not a good thing – especially for young developing brains – including some scary links to ADD, ADHD and other labels. But I’m not going to quote any of it here. (If you have an interest in the research, there’s so much out there you can just Google it!) In this Blog I think it may be more helpful to just go back to basics: what are your children’s needs? how can technology help/hinder you to get them met? And what is the right thing for you to do?
I’ll try to keep simple what I have learned while working with children and parents on this issue.

Children need opportunities to work out basic relationships, especially family relationships, so they can understand both themselves and relationship dynamics. Ask yourself: Is their use of technology facilitating this process? Used mindfully, both Facebook (and other such IT) and texting can be beneficial both socially and academically. However, if it replaces face to face human contact, it will not help the development of skills we as humans need to ‘read’ other people, and to express ourselves appropriately through out body-language and other ‘live’ visual, auditory, and tactile cues.

Children need to learn how to manage their own emotions and stress reactions live and in real-time, as they work out their relationships with others, developing their emotional intelligence, including empathic competencies, in the process. The impersonal, brief but delayed, and abbreviated nature of interactive communication such as texting and emailing have shown to impair this learning process considerably. I can vouch for this finding, having witnessed it not only in many, many children in schools, but also amongst countess professionals in corporations, where it causes costly conflict! (One Fortune 500 CEO was described to me recently as “an emotional train-wreck”).

So, before your child grows up into a fully dysfunctional and miserable corporate player :-), let’s look at what you can do – realistically, day-to-day:

Do you Multitask? Multitasking is a significant aspect of Internet technology, and its appeal. Check whether you multitask yourself before you tell your child not to. Do you drive and talk on your cell-phone at the same time? Do you text while you’re having a family meal out? Do you … hmm, get the picture? Gauge how you would like your child to be, against your own actions. “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t work anymore!

When it comes to your child’s school work, multitasking may not be detrimental in itself, - although for some children it undermines their capacity to focus – but it does tend to slow down the process of getting the work done, making it more likely for her to be studying well into the night and rushing her assignment when she’d tired and cranky and her brain is not functioning at it’s full capacity – and more importantly, she probably won’t be getting enough sleep.

You are the parent, not the buddy – dare to be unpopular. Every young person needs his guide more than anyone, and you are it! Take the time to observe where your child’s development is being helped or hindered by technology. Use your intuitive knowledge of each child – they all respond differently to technology, as to anything. Discuss with your co-parent or another adult who holds the same values you do. Make mindful choices about what your boundaries are or need to be. Plan to engage your child, to consider his views and be open to some leeway with him, but be sure you know and stay true to your own limits. Apply your emotional mastery skills to get centered and really ‘tune in’ to what you know, in your heart, is right.

When conversing with your child about setting boundaries or consequences (these or others), set up a time for conversation when both of you are in a good space. (For instance, giving advance notice, serving Pizza, and letting your child select some of her choice of music to play in the background, might set the stage better than yelling after her as she disappears up the staircase.) If you, for instance, are setting time limits for the use of Facebook, try to get their buy-in, but be clear that you are the parent. Eliminate your emotional need to be liked or approved of, (having managed your emotions before the conversation!)

This brings to mind a story I heard recently about a comment the Duke of Windsor made after spending time in the US. He said, (sarcastically I believe), “What I like about America is how well parents obey their children.” Oooops! Check that this doesn’t apply to you!

Of course the very best thing you can do is your own 3 R’s:
whether your emotions are serving you and your child, & if not, stop.
Release any tension, appropriately (‘take Time-out’ and scream into a pillow, write, run, etc.)
Relax into a ‘feel-good’ state – breathe slowly 3 times and focus on feeling appreciation.
THEN, come back to the issue. With your emotional energy managed, your brain will be clearer and you can behave and communicate more the way you really want to!

Internet & communication technology is here to stay – but rather than gritting your teeth and bearing it, the job of parents is to find ways to reconcile it with what we know for sure about our human needs, and being brave enough to do what is right, regardless of whether it’s popular in the moment. The less emotional energy you have around that, the easier it will be! That’s my experience, anyway!

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