I sat with my five-year-old in a doctor’s office waiting room, and as she handed me her pink, VTech camera to go play with a plastic, farmhouse I smiled. I looked across from me and saw a young boy around her age happily enthralled with an electronic tablet, his mother with head bent focusing on her phone. The pull to grab mine out of my purse was there. I looked back to my daughter as she returned to me, already bored with the barn, and she reached quickly for her camera. It didn’t just take pictures. It had filters, voice modulators, and tons of games too.
Just as quickly I suggested, “how about I read you a book?” Then I pointed at the books along the wall.
I smiled victoriously as she picked out one of my favorites by Dr. Seuss, but that seemed short-lived as we later left the doctor’s office. I grimaced as I watched my child blindly go forward in the parking lot, her eyes glued to an “educational” game on her kiddy device.
This. This was a struggle unique to our generation, and one that would probably only grow more difficult for future ones. I was a mom maneuvering my way through a technological age. On one hand, I was blessed to have the opportunities to teach my children easier, but on the other, I struggled with finding the balance for them, a balance that even adults struggled with.
A couple of months ago I had given my seven and five-year-olds our old cell phones. They didn’t have cell service on them, nor social media. So basically they were snazzy cameras and a way to watch videos or play games on WiFi, but still. But still, I watched them become absorbed into the devices. Even though we limited their time on them, they seemed to always be asking for them. We ended up making the phones conveniently disappear, and as I watched my daughter try and record YouTube videos with her VTech, walking unaware into traffic, I figured the same needed to happen with the pink camera. They just weren’t at a maturity level to deal with the pull technology took on their little brains. Even as a forty-year-old woman I had to tell myself to shut off my Facebook and put mine down at times. Just being honest.
My parents didn’t have to worry about this sort of thing! When I was five I remember being quite taken with a cassette recorder, but when given the opportunity I would have rather been in the pool. When I was around eleven or twelve I was indeed obsessed with my Nintendo, Friday the 13th game, but I also would spend sunup to sundown running through the woods. I loved my Saturday morning cartoons, but otherwise, I was mending frogs, riding the tires off my bike, and having sleepovers with my buddies where we actually talked verbally to one another instead of snapping photos back and forth. I experienced cliques and bullying in high school, for sure, but there’s many a day I thank the Lord that social media didn’t exist when I was a teen. The level of cruelty and malevolence that can take place behind the safety of a screen is unparalleled. My parents didn’t have to deal with this, and many days I wish I didn’t either.
As a mom today you’re torn between utilizing the positive attributes of technology, or wanting to bury every single cell phone, iPad, and laptop, and go off the grid. I mean, you have to admit that a DVD player in the minivan is handy on a seven-hour road trip, and for supermarket meltdowns, nothing saves your sanity like a Surprise Egg video, but then you have to admit too that it’s a slippery slope not letting technology be your babysitter. Sometimes it’s easier to let your teen get on social media and socialize with her friends rather than deal with the moody brooding, but the zombie look in her eyes as her fingers swiftly move across the screen makes you wonder, can this be a good thing?!!
So here I am trying my best. I’m trying to figure out when to tell my teenage stepdaughter to put the phone away even though “all her friends are doing it,” and when to keep it out of my young daughters’ hands as much as possible. I’m fighting to not let the convenience of technology steal my parenting from me. I’m trying to be a better example by letting go of the things that keep me distracted and on my phone when they need me.
It’s not always easy to see the lines. I remember when I was a kid my friend’s mom worried we would catch AIDS from mosquitoes (an unnecessary concern). Today you have to worry about your twelve-year-old running off with a sexual predator she met online (a legitimate concern, even if you don’t want to admit it). My folks worried about me sneaking out my window, and I remember my dad nailing it shut. Today we search our kids’ browser history, but just like I figured out a way to get outside unknown, so do kids today. Nowadays, though, it just so happens they can get into plenty of trouble right in their own room, from their unsupervised screen time.
We are in a new realm of parenting. It’s foreign, uncharted territory, and it’s scary. Now, more than ever, we need to be praying for guidance as we lead our children through a technological world that tries to harm them. Now, more than ever, we need to be listening to the Lord’s leading for our families and listening to our children’s silent cries for help in a world where real social interaction and active play elude them. We need to be the advocates for our children in a confusing, distracting world. We need to be the anchor that keeps them balanced in a social media world that tries to carry them away in a fictional cloud of what’s important. We need to be the compass that guides them to what really matters, like face-to-face relationships, and teaches them that kindness can still prevail in a trolling, keyboard-warrior world.
We have our work cut out for us, parents, but I believe we can do it. So sure, if you want to share this with your friends, do, but then put your phone down! Pick up a book, pull your kid into your lap, before it’s too late, and dive back in time to a world before cells phones and social media guided our existence.