Camp Kate on Ending the Technology Distraction.
NAEYC Nashville Conference 2019
Let me tell you, I fell off that high-horse I rode into the workshop on real quick. They asked how often we interrupted our children’s “hilarious jokes” (You know the ones…. Them: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Us: “Why?” Them: “Purple!”- cue uncontrollable laughter) to look at who texted us or called us. They told us to count how often we press PLAY instead of having a conversation or how many phone calls could wait until AFTER drop-off instead of during it. I thought about the drop-off line at school, where if we are there early we need to wait in the car for a few minutes until I can drop-off Jack. Those two minutes are generally spent scrolling Facebook while I look up (sometimes not even bothering to do that) as I yell at Jack and Sadie to stop bugging each other. They don’t listen, I get irritated and all of our days start on the wrong foot. The presenters had us take inventory of how many minutes, while our children are present, that we are clicking away on our email, scanning social media, and giving real time updates to our followers instead of engaging with our kids. How often we let our kids compete with technology while we say “just a minute” because scrolling through a highschool frenemies posted photos from their tropical vacation which is critical because we have to check to be sure we are aging better than they are. The struggle is real—do we interact with our children or binge watch Grays? As all of us parents in the audience started to squirm in our seats, they plead with us to be gentle with ourselves and to keep judgement to a minimum. Parenting is hard. Distractions hit us from every direction all the time. Most of them we cannot control. Technology? That is one that we have some ability to minimize.
They began by explaining how the brain is a social organ that needs connection and how we are often denying our children the chance to fully connect. We are giving them the a perfect storm of bad--- we are physically present, preventing them from developing autonomy, yet in state of constant distraction. The details are available to peruse in my conference notes, but to summarize a bit, we are causing our children lasting harm by not zoning in on them. Their speech is delayed, we are hurting their ability to create positive relationships, we are not teaching them social and emotional skills, there is a lasting family divide created and undesired behaviors seeking attention are multiplied significantly. We will project our negative feelings about something we are reading on to our children, feeling anger and being short with them even though it is really drama online causing us angst. There are studies that show distracted parents put their children at risk for being negative human beings that have trouble coping with reality. One of the examples that was talked about during the session involved a study with children running around a baseball diamond. Half the time they asked the parent to be tuned in to what was going on- body turned towards the field, engaging with their child when they looked towards them, not distracted. The other half of the time they were asked to be closed off completely looking at their phone. The times where the parent was distracted the children showed less coordination (tripping and stumbling more) and ran at slower rates than the times that the parents were engaged.
I thought about it a lot over the next several hours. I got off that plane (you know, the one we exited on the tarmac in the pouring rain before running up and down about 87 escalators across three miles of airport to catch our connecting flight) and decided I would start with drop-off. Holy moly, it was magic. Within days, I noticed a tremendous change in Jack’s behavior and my reaction to it. My temper wasn’t nearly as quick to flare and he was too busy telling me all sorts of things about the kids who could see on the bus and about what he was looking forward to during the day that it was actually one of the most enjoyable few minutes of my day. I wish I could tell you cutting back on technology use around the kids have eliminated attention seeking behaviors but that’s just a dirty lie—they are still competing for my attention from so many things; other people, my to-do list, adult tasks they can’t assist with, fatigue… they may still be overtired, or hangry or just sick of being “good”. I will tell you that in the few weeks since I have decided to step away from the keyboard during breakfast, not a single email recipient has complained that I didn’t respond in a timely enough manner and I have started my days learning about my children’s crazy dreams and counting down days until every possible event (“Mom, how many days until Christmas time? How many days until we go to swim lessons? How many days until Gracie poops in the potty?”) with a much better attitude because they aren’t “interrupting me” from the more important things, they ARE the more important things.
I am not saying I am completely disconnected when my kids are around. Not even close. I am being more aware though. Like many, my phone is my camera, and pictures are important. However, I am going to capture that moment, then put my phone away and LIVE in it. Dinner is a no-phone zone. I am making a conscious effort to help foster their social/emotional development, their speech and conversation skills and most importantly (if I am being truthful) I am just really tired of the negative behaviors and acting out for attention. Plus, I want them to want to hang out with me when I am old and gray(er)—building family loyalty now so I have someone to rake my yard for free later on J. So, today I will take another baby step towards off-line parenting and instead of checking my phone while I am waiting for my kids to find their notoriously missing ‘other shoe’, I will do as my husband does and sneak off to the bathroom to use Facebook.