Our kids are facing an onslaught of distraction, materialism, shallowness, and inappropriate viewing content — at the same time we are
One of the unique facets of the technology challenge we face is that we are, perhaps for the first time, dealing with a brand-new nisayon while playing on exactly the same field as our kids.
Normally, we go through something ourselves, and then when our kids are dealing with a similar situation, we have the perspective and experience to guide them, or at least to recognize the process. This is true when facing tzniyus challenges, struggles in learning, controlling overwhelming middos, and so on. Of course, the world we grew up in was vastly different from the one in which we’re raising our kids today, but the nisyonos have the same blueprint.
In the world of technology, though, we’re all in this together. Our kids are facing an onslaught of distraction, materialism, shallowness, and inappropriate viewing content — at the same time we are.
When interviewing people for my book TechTalk five years ago, I spoke to a cross section of people from different ages and stages about how they were dealing with technology. And interestingly, in many ways (warning: you won’t like this), the younger generation interviewees actually seemed better equipped to deal with it; they had better tech habits than their parents.
Over and over, I saw how teens would instinctively put away their phones during family meal times, while the parents would eat with one eye on their devices, perhaps because they felt the calls or emails coming through were “more important.” Kids constantly complained of mothers on their phones, of fathers who never, ever disconnected from work. I actually had a mother of a friend approach me — a great-grandmother — who complained that with the introduction of technology, her friends are so awed by their new toys that she felt like the landscape of her girlfriend relationships have permanently changed.
I certainly do not mean to intimate that younger people are more responsible with their tech habits then the older generation. We know from adolescent research that teens and young adults are less adept and perhaps even less capable of self-monitoring than adults.
However, there does seem to be a marked difference. Maybe technology is less alluring to the younger generation because they grew up with it, and that’s why they don’t feel they have to forward every corny joke or video clip. Maybe because their parents put rules in place from an early age in a way that no one ever did for the parents themselves….
I don’t know the reason, but it seemed apparent from my (admittedly unscientific) research that teenagers in general are more aware of the consequences of technology and are better educated about the issues and how to deal with them.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the self-control they need to make the best choices. A 16-year-old remains a 16-year-old. However, we need to recognize that when we get upset at our kids for being attached to their phones and ignoring the family, we may be doing the same. Our daughters may spend hours shopping online, but we must be willing to look at our own online shopping habits before addressing theirs.
And by we, I obviously mean me. More than improving my own habits, I want to model appropriate use. I want to succeed at taming my tech use as much for my children’s sake as for my own.
I spend a lot of time on my computer. A lot. Which is definitely, in my opinion, way better than spending time on my phone, but it’s something I’d like to inspect and dissect. My laptop is the hub of so much of what I do: learning, note-taking, project-managing, random research, shopping, menu-planning.
Can I limit my computer use? Is there a reason to?
I suppose the reasons to curtail my computer use are similar, if not exactly the same, as cutting back on my (old) smartphone use:
- Because it can suck me in, and I can lose track of time, while I scroll, scroll, scroll (though not half as much as on the phone. I’m not really sure why… maybe because it’s just klutzy to curl up on the couch with a computer in the way you would with your phone?)
- I don’t want my kids to feel ignored by a screen.
- I definitely end up seeing things I shouldn’t.
Yet I can’t get around the fact that so much of my day-to-day functioning requires me to be on the computer.
But if I’m being honest, I spend my leisure time at the screen too.
Now there’s a vast difference between returning work emails, doing creative writing, or writing a menu for Yom Tov (I barely handwrite anything, as I’m usually unable to decipher what I wrote — pathetic, but true), and shopping online or scrolling a Pinterest feed for an hour, eyes half-glazed. But at the end of the day, screen time is screen time, and my ten-year-old certainly doesn’t distinguish between her mother listening to a shiur or checking if an item is on sale for the fifth time that week. What she knows is that her mother is unavailable.
Ideally, my computer would be a large-screened, centrally placed device that cannot be moved. Having to stay in one place would be mildly uncomfortable, which would encourage me (and my kids) to get off quickly. It would also create more transparency, because everyone around me would know what I’m doing.
It would lead to way, less time on the computer overall.
I hate the idea.
I really hope that’s not my next stop.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 981)
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