(Last of three parts)
Are we parents good role models for our children?
Do we text during family dinners, claiming work cannot wait? Do we complain as we try to download the latest show from BitTorrent (although it may be illegal), grousing that the Internet connection is too slow? Do we sign up our six-year-olds on Facebook, even if the minimum age is 13?
Children learn best from our actions, not so much from our lectures.
So let us show them that we can turn off the cell phone during dinner, family time and even holidays. Let us engage them in discussing what movie to watch together over the weekend and help them to manage schedules accordingly. Let us explain to them why we need to follow the law, that mainly it may be to save us from baser instincts.
A Tsinoy friend told me this story that was both amusing and sad. When her clan gathered in a Chinese restaurant to celebrate the birthday of the matriarch, the old lady was horrified when none of her 11 grandchildren would look up from their gadgets to greet her.
Only one six-year-old girl gave her grandmother a perfunctory peck on the cheek before swiftly turning back to her iPad.
The matriarch was so angry that she threatened not to give any of the grandkids an angpao (red envelope with money) until they “behaved like normal people.”
My friend, whose kids were as guilty as their cousins, felt ashamed, but then she asked me, “What can we do? If our kids don’t have computer games, they will be very rowdy in the restaurant.”
So we medicate our children with gadgets. We stuff them with toys to keep them quiet, to make them behave, to make them stop bothering us and others.
“Instead of talking to or playing with [our] children or helping them find something to do on their own that might allay their frustration, boredom, or whining,” says American psychologist and new-media expert Jim Taylor in his book “Raising Generation Tech”, “[we] just pull out [our] iPhone and hand it to [our] children.”
The result? Children who are prone to technology addiction early, children who are easily bored, children who do not have the initiative to figure out how to deal with negative emotions.
There is more. Children who cannot delay gratification.
The ability to delay gratification has been linked to positive behaviors in teens and adults, such as higher grades, less alcohol and drug use, less addictive behaviors.
But when we immediately give iPads to our kids to appease them, they will never learn patience and how to wait for rewards.
Saddest of all, when we keep shoving digital devices to our kids to keep them quiet, entertained, or just make them sit still, we are raising kids who will have no respect for us.
“Children may not learn that other people’s time is valuable and that parents have other responsibilities beyond their children,” says Taylor. “Children may fail to realize that respecting others can mean sitting and waiting patiently until their parents finish what they’re doing.”
The next time our children whine or wheedle, we let them deal with their feelings for a spell and calmly take them for a walk, read to them, or cuddle them.
One way to manage technology use is to limit exposure to digital media of all kinds. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and tweens should spend a maximum of two hours a day on everything digital, including television.
I know this is not realistic or, sadly, even possible for most kids (and parents). So let us take periodic tech breaks.
We can have an active social life in the real world, interacting with people face to face.
We can challenge our brains by doing unfamiliar things offline, such as learning a new language, a new musical instrument, a new puzzle like Sudoku. We can read a challenging book.
We can exercise more, not just cardiovascular or strength training, but also meditative ones like yoga.
We can eat better, incorporating fish oil or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids in our meals.
We can disengage from the virtual world for a while and live in the flesh-and-blood real world: bike in the park, visit a museum, walk the dog around the neighborhood.
Otherwise, the price we have to pay may be too high. In her book “Distracted,” American journalist Maggie Jackson puts it poignantly.
“What stories are we weaving as we look to the machine to comfort and transform us—indeed, to be a part of us? Within this messy convergence, we are on the brink of redefining humanity, but in ways that ultimately may impoverish us. In a distracted time, our virtual, split-screen and nomadic lives nurture diffusion, fragmentation and detachment.
“We begin to forget how to pay attention to one another deeply and begin to attend more to fallacy and artifice. Trust, depth of thought and, finally, a certain spirit of humanity begin to be lost.”
E-mail the author at email@example.com.