Two weeks ago Stevie and I attended his 5-year class reunion at HBS. We absolutely LOVED our time living in Boston (I can't believe it's been 5 years since we left!) and we had a mondo blast reuniting with so many dear friends over the course of the weekend. While we were there, we had the pleasure of attending a lecture about parenting in the digital age by Dr. Michael Rich (aka "the mediatrician"), and it was incredibly enlightening. I shared a quick Instagram Story snap about this and so many of you reached out and ask for me to share what I learned. So without further adieu, here are some of my takeaways, since many of you are parents like me, and navigating all the media access can sometimes feel like a minefield.
We have all heard some kind of scary statistics about raising our children in the digital age. Every generation of parenting has had it's challenges and opportunities, and this is one of ours. The use of smart phones, iPads, Kindles, computers and TV by both parents and children is at an all-time high - we are the first generation with this unlimited access to media and technology and we use it ALL.DAY.LONG. It's an incredible advantage and gift, but it can also be destructive and debilitating in our parenting game. Have you ever been scrolling on your phone while you push your kid on the swing? Have you ever sat down to a meal with your family and your phone is right there, on the table with you? I don't bring this up to make you feel bad - I'm guilty of all these scenarios! Attending this lecture was incredibly convicting to me and Stevie and we came away from this with a newfound sense of "we need to do better."
Detriments of Parenting in the Digital Age:
- Less sit-down family meals. Because we're all busy, right? But if we DO all sit down together, where are the screens? Is the TV on, is your smart phone nearby or even in your hand?
- Increased "babysitting" by handing children a device while parents do other things (cook, clean, get ready, eat, work, etc.)
- Increased teen access to "the dark side" of the web, including pornography and cyber-bullying. 42% of 10-17 year-olds have ended up on porn sites and 42% of 4th-8th graders have been victims of cyber-bullying.
- Heavy users of media showed (heavy users > 16 hours per day, light users < 3 hours per day), showed an increase in poor grades, getting into more trouble and low personal contentment.
- Increase in media-related disorders, including procrastination, apathy, disconnect with others.
What We Can Do:
Some of these stats and information can feel really heavy. But there is hope! As we tweak our approach to media access for ourselves and with our kids, it can actually be an awesome tool for everyone. Here are a few of tactics to consider:
1. Consider taking a Smart Phone Sabbath.
This is my favorite because we can do this now! You can do this once a week or for a set period of time every day. I know lots of people who incorporate a "phone break" into their schedule everyday. I've been doing my best to put my phone away during meal times, at night after the kids go to bed and also staying off social media entirely on Sundays. I will still use my phone here and there on Sundays, but I only use it for that purpose - a phone! Usually to call my mom because my kids adore her. But taking this break from media has been super refreshing and doesn't feel like punishment! I am appreciative for this boundary of discipline for myself and I highly recommend it for anyone.
2. Bring back boredom!
The best ideas come when our minds can empty out and wander a bit. I have found this in my own self - if I am constantly filling the voids in my day by scrolling on social media, I can end up feeling fried and mindless at the end of the day. And this is true for kids, too! Instead of allowing excessive TV, video games, and other screen time to fill their breaks in the day, letting them get bored can actually be good for them! And yes, they will whine and cry a bit, but who else remembers being bored as a kid? A little bit of boredom is good for them and doesn't make us bad parents!
3. Use Media WITH your kids.
This was one of the strongest recommendations that Dr. Rich shared. He stressed the importance of engaging with your children while they use media, and making sure it's not a solitary experience. If your child loves a video game, play it with them! If they have a certain show that they love, snuggle up on the couch and watch it together. It's important to form these bonds and show them you value what they value. This also gives us as parents the opportunity to teach them boundaries with that particular media and ask them questions about what they learned.
4. Have a sit-down meal with your family every single day. WITHOUT DEVICES.
This was another recommendation that was convicting. With Stevie's work commute and travel schedule, during the week it's nearly impossible for all of us to have a sit-down family meal together. On the weekends our little family is inseparable but the weekly schedule is tough. But since we've made it more of a priority, we are starting to have them a few times a week during the week days, which is a huge deal and I'm already seeing the positive impact on my boys, which makes me so very happy.
I didn't come away from this lecture feeling badly about how much my kids use media. I actually felt a personal conviction of how much they must see me using media, and therefore will probably continue to place value on it because I do. And gosh, that's such a heavy responsibility. I just want to do the right things by my kids and it first starts with me. So I am working on incorporating some of these tactics and I hope they are helpful to you as you navigate this journey for your family, as well!
This is an enormous subject matter and I am merely sharing the briefest of takeaways from this lecture. Thankfully, Dr. Michael Rich has an entire site dedicated to "Ask the Mediatrician", with tons of resources, articles and even an opportunity to ask him specific questions about parenting in the digital age.
Tell me, do you feel like you could take a social media sabbath or digital sabbath? What would that look like for you? I'm interested in hearing from you, friends! xx