Maintaining Balance: Children and Technology
By Annie Burnside, M.Ed.
In the modern age of texts, tweets, and status updates, it is of utmost importance that parents maintain open lines of face-to-face, soul-to-soul communication with their children. This does not mean resisting a highly technological world that is not going away, but rather continually exploring new ways to connect with one another both on and beyond the keyboard. The new technology in and of itself is not detrimental to children and can be quite useful to them in many ways, but it must be coupled with daily opportunities for personal reflection, creative inspiration, and heart connection with others. It becomes the parents’ role to both monitor technological use as their children’s sole means of communication and to provide the space and encouragement for life-affirming communication and choices.
Today’s children often become immersed in a world of technology and friendships that may seem quite foreign to parents. The more attuned parents are to their children’s interests other than technology, the better able they are to utilize those interests as opportunities for expanded connection. Parents can view all interests as possible pathways to enhance real life interactions. Parents must observe closely what truly brings their children joy, where they are most authentic, and what makes their eyes sparkle. To light the path of infusing deeper meaning into everyday life, parents must continually assess whether they are offering a true understanding of core concepts like authenticity, self-love, connectedness, gratitude and presence in tandem with their children’s inevitable foray into a fast-paced and ever-changing technological world. Parents must not only teach these concepts but also model ways for their children to integrate them into life experiences and relationships.
The invitation for all parents is to actively participate in as many areas of their children’s lives as possible without decreasing their natural move towards independence. Children’s passions when viewed from an expanded perspective offer rich material and opportunity to connect with them in deep and joyous ways. Songs, movies, and all veins of creative expression (even technology) provide optimal entry points into daily conversation and in-depth discussion. Parents can utilize everyday life to dissect and review the core concepts mentioned above to expand perspective and enhance the parent/child bond. The space and opportunity to discuss the touchstones of the day can be created through a weekly family discussion, a nightly chat at bedtime, the family dinner, or time spent together in the car with technology off. Parents must be continually on the lookout for a bridge into their children’s world, while at the same time enforce time-outs from computerized communication.
Due to the fact that the new technology is here to stay, to resist it outright will create a backlash for parents and children alike. Instead, the best strategy is to discuss often and enforce expectations regarding appropriate use. Parents must explain to their children why balance in this area is vital to their overall well-being. The capacity to be inspired to create in any venue requires downtime, reflection, openness, and connection to the deeper space within. It is important for children to understand that there is a place for multi-tasking and technological communication, but it is the relationship with their own interior and life itself that ignites their highest potential.
As parents give their children permission to be authentic in their choices, they must also offer them the parental insight that there are multiple angles to every choice. Parents can encourage transparency and honesty by creating a family structure that helps children monitor their choices—such as computer use on the first floor only and no hand-held devices allowed during meal times, family outings, or after 8pm. Parents should not be afraid to expect and enforce accountability, while at the same time remain open to the child’s new world. It is imperative that parents take the time to teach children that current choices affect future reality. In other words, parents should assist them in coming to understand that they are the source, not the effect—joy begets more joy, inspiration begets more inspiration, and also the opposite.
Conscious parenting requires active participation in all aspects of family life including the explosive use of technology. Parents must remain extremely aware of their own technological use and their presence within the family. As parents feel their way in regards to their own relationship to technology, they can begin to intuitively reach for the openings to interact richly with their children that occur naturally rather than push too hard at the wrong time. The teenage years are fast and fleeting. There is much sharing, laughter, togetherness, and JOY to be had. As parents model balance, authentic living and deep connection, their beloved children will follow suit in their own way, through not only their face-to-face, soul-to-soul interactions, but through their inevitable online interactions as well.
Annie Burnside, M.Ed., is a soul nurturer, author, public speaker and teacher specializing in conscious relationships and spiritual development. Her book Soul to Soul Parenting: A Guide to Raising a Spiritually Conscious Family (Wyatt-MacKenzie, June 2010) offers everyday mediums and universal, life-affirming themes to those families seeking to expand spiritual awareness. Annie resides in Chicago, IL with her husband and three children. www.annieburnside.com.