Screen Time: Ideas for keeping technology a tool for togetherness
by Susan Besze Wallace
The Glass Box stopped my son in his tracks as we walked down a country road in my parents’ small town. “What’s that, Mom?”
“Why honey, it’s a pay phone,” I said. “The old-fashioned way we used to call people when we weren’t at home.”
I realized I had just used the word “old-fashioned” to describe the way I grew up. I didn’t know whether to run for the wrinkle cream or shout to the heavens in gratitude for the hot-pink cell in my jeans.
I asked the kids if they could think of times a cell phone served us well. They were all over it. Like when the car battery died at the beach? When we didn’t know where soccer practice was? When we told Daddy about scoring at the game? … but not at the dinner table, Mom, or in carpool since you’ll get in trouble … or when we need you.
The ability to share pictures instantly is wondrous. Calling to share news with the grandparents wherever, whenever, brings extended family right into our day. But while we show our kids that we are communicating, are we still communicating with them about technology? Today’s toddlers could rightfully think a cell phone is just a detachable part of the human anatomy. While you text your sister half a country away to “have a good day,” your kids only know you seem distracted, not that she was sick yesterday or that you miss her. We have to tell them. Perhaps we should also:
Explain how wonderful it is that we have a way to quickly use technology to answer their question about how high that mountain is or to find a great book about sharks. When you go pick up that book, explain how you saved time by using the computer/phone first.
Talk to our children about what we’re doing — with eye contact — and not while we’re doing it. Before you return to your task, ask your child if he trusts you to attend to his needs in another 30 seconds? Should he? Will you? That bridge of trust will extend into other parts of your relationship too.
Let our kids communicate occasionally like we do, “emailing” a cousin or pushing “send” to call Dad.
Admit it when we goof. I didn’t need to check my cell during church to find out if my son’s football game was rained out. My own inability to focus on one thing at a time had me gently digging in the purse. Mom could have made a better choice.
Share how every toy/tool comes with rules. What are your family’s technology guidelines? One friend says no technology between 4 and 7 p.m. for anyone in the house. Many states say no texting while driving. Teaching accountability is a big part of parenting. You can’t do that without modeling it.
No screen will ever fulfill us like the loving eyes of our child. Making good decisions throughout our day will keep technology bringing people and information closer, not pushing families apart.
Susan Besze Wallace is the author of The New Mom’s Guide to Life with Baby (2011) and mom to three boys who keep bugging her to get a smart phone. The first laptop model she used as a newspaper reporter is in a museum now.