“My mom should look at me when I talk to her. She always only looks at her iPhone! It makes me mad!” This was the response of a ten year old, when asked: “What rules would you make for your parents regarding the use of technology?”
We’re quick to make rules for kids when it comes to the use of technology. Is this working? Is there another way?
What if the kids are just imitating us? What if we put the phone down? What if we could set a great example for kids regarding the appropriate use of technology?
And – what if doing this turned out to be as beneficial for us, and our relationships, as it would be for them?
Mark Matousek, in a Psychology Today article, wrote, “You learn the world from your mother’s face. The mother’s eyes, especially, are a child’s refuge, the mirror where children confirm their existence. From the doting reflection of its mother’s eyes, a baby draws its earliest, wordless lessons about connection, care, and love, and about how being ignored – which every child is sooner or later – makes the good feeling disappear.”
Where are those good feelings for this frustrated eight year old girl? “I used to snuggle with my mom in the morning. Now, she’s always playing Scrabble when I curl up next to her. She should stop playing Scrabble and cuddle with me!”
At brunch, my friends, both doctors on call, frequently check their iPhones. It’s not surprising that their one year old constantly reaches for the iPhone, often jamming it in his mouth. The iPhone is the target of his parent’s attention. Why shouldn’t it be the target of his attention?
Psychologist Dan Siegel, tells us that a mother’s gaze plays a crucial role in the development of empathy. “We learn to care, quite literally, by observing the caring behavior of our parents toward us.” When mom’s gaze is fixed on the screen, might this have an impact on the child’s ability to be empathic?
A twelve year old noticed that, even in front of the television, his father was missing in action: “My dad used to watch TV with me. Now he’s like, sitting next to me, on his iPad or iPhone, and it’s like I’m alone. My dad should watch TV with me for real. Like he used to.”
We’re also teaching the next generation how to be safe on the road. Or not. “Texting while driving isn’t even legal. My mom and dad do it all the time. They won’t stop even when I tell them to stop. And it’s not legal, right? Grown-ups shouldn’t text and drive.”
Imitation and modeling are among the most powerful tools we have for creating behavior change, particularly for children. When we start making rules for our kids around the use of technology, let’s enlist them in the process. They’re loaded with wisdom.