At the beginning of the year when I was putting together this annual parent coaching plan for you I had penciled in “Technology” as being the topic we would explore for July. Over the last week, having spoken to many parents, my hunch was right. Many of you are concerned about how you are going to manage your children’s screen diets during the holidays.
With that in mind, welcome July, welcome to the holidays and welcome to the huge subject of Screens and Devices and how we can find ways to live with technology so that we control it and it does not control us. It’s a tough one…
Having read books on the subject, advice column after advice column and blog after blog on this topic, there is undoubtedly a lot of great information out there on this subject. However, in many of the “solutions” and “tips” offered on how to manage the impact of this on our family lives, I find that there is often one key piece of information that is missing – the profound effects of role modeling.
More often than not, these “writings” imply that it is our children who have the problem.
I believe that many parents today, myself included, also face challenges controlling their own digital behaviours. By digital behaviour, I am referring to our so-called “outside of work hours” digital habits and behaviours. The ones that our children see us doing. The ones we are “role modeling” to them. The ones that can influence and impact our children’s digital habits and behaviours.
For me, as long as I continued to exclude myself from being part of the problem, I realized that I was overlooking valuable opportunities to finding workable solutions to the challenges that our digitally consumed lives present us.
If I hoped to find solutions to some of the challenges that the digital world presents me and my kids, I had to turn the spotlight onto myself: The foundation for all meaningful change is self-change.
When I was little, I remember my Dad saying to me:
“Do as I say and not as I do” and I-HATED-IT. I vowed to never say this or do this with my own children yet when it came to screens, I had to be brave, put up my hand. Although I don’t say it “I do it”.
I took a long, sometimes hard but honest look at my digital behaviours. I knew that I would have to be prepared to embrace my own hypocrisies (because they were there) in order to shape and modify mine to that which I want to see my children develop.
I asked myself questions like this:
- What are your outside of “work hours” digital habits?
- Do you check your phone more than you really need to, a little a lot or do you sit for longer periods of time on it?
- Are you happy with your “out of hours” digital behaviours?
- Do you have any “anti-social” digital habits that you know you ask your children to stop doing?
- Are there any digital habits you have now that although your kids might not do yet there will be a good chance of them doing in future and you would rather they didn’t.
I used to regularly catch myself asking my teenagers to get off their phones and get off Instagram or SnapChat only to hear my own phone go “ting-ting” which I would then duly check.
Hypocritical or what?
I knew I was doing some of the very things that I didn’t appreciate seeing and experiencing my teenagers doing.
The first step for me was the hardest. I had to become aware of, recognize and OWN my own not so “ideal” digital habits, my own consumption rates and dare I add, possible addictions to technology outside of my “work” hours.
“Could I be addicted to checking my phone? Am I really any different to my teenagers? It crept up on them so it could have crept up on me…”
Until I became aware of my integrity gaps, shone the spotlight onto myself and made some changes to my patterns of digital behaviour, I didn’t think that it was fair to expect anything different of my children. Because then, and only then would I be in a position to modify my digital behaviour to then role model the types of digital behaviours that I wanted to see my children develop. Monkey see, monkey do.
It takes courage to own our own hypocrisies but in order to “practice what I preached” with any success and integrity I had to do this and have to continue doing this.
I believe that we have to lead by example.
Our children are our mirrors. As bitter a pill as it was to swallow, my teenagers were simply reflecting some of my not so favourable digital habits right back at me.
Over the course of the next week, I encourage you to become more aware of your digital habits and the influence they might have on your children. Are there any things that you might choose to change? Changing anything first starts with developing an awareness for what needs to be changed.
It’s an on-going practice. It means becoming acutely aware of any “unconscious” moments in order to make a more conscious decision the next time round.
The benefits of practicing what you are preaching and role modeling the behaviours you want to see your children develop are far reaching.
Our family, has adopted some practices that help us honour the relationships we have with each other over the relationships we have with our devices and for those of you signed up to the Parent Coaching Program, over the course of the next month, I will be sharing these with you.