When my kids were younger, I could not wait for them to get a bit older. It seemed like every time I was turning around there was another conflict, mess or disaster that needed my attention. However, now that they are 15, 13 and 10, I am beginning to think I should have been careful what I wished for.
Sure, now they do not need me to mediate every little thing and they are no longer throwing their food on the floor or constantly demanding my attention. Yet, instead, at times I feel like I am losing them to instant messaging, the computer, video games and their peers. Sometimes I feel like I do not even exist. I try to strike a balance and manage these activities as best I can but increasingly it seems that is all they want to do.
My attempts to set limits are met by them telling me that is what their friends are doing and that they miss out on interactions when I shut things down. My friends tell me it is what all the kids are doing and at least my kids are not getting into trouble.
I also benefit because more than ever before I am able to use the time that they are occupied to get other things done. Yet, I’m not so sure. Perhaps I do not really get it (that is what I am told all of the time) and I wonder if I am making a mountain out of a molehill.
What a wonderful description of the reality that many parents are facing in today’s world of instant communication, texting and online entertainment.
All parents have to struggle with how to manage ever changing and faster developing technology than ever before. We do not really know how growing up in such a world will impact our kids and how to strike a balance between their exposure/use of that technology and the rest of their lives.
Dr. Ron Taffel warns of the phenomena that he describes as a ‘second family.’ In his work with children, youth and families he notes that he has increasingly been seeing a pull from the peer group and pop culture so strong that it overwhelms the power of the first family of adults at home and school.
Increasingly, he says that parents are finding themselves on the outside of the world that their children are relating in.
When this happens, he suggests, the results can be quite frightening. Not only do our children seem increasingly distant and difficult to reach, but they also begin to rely on their second family for direction and support in ways that can undermine some of very skills, values and beliefs that we know they will need later in life.
Yet, as you note, setting and managing limits around this is difficult. It has become a way of communicating and connecting that is different from what today’s parents experienced as youth.
More and more online messaging and texting is the way that youth relate and connect and cutting them off from that creates conflict and resentment that can drive a bigger wedge in between parents and their children.
In many ways, your friends are right, it is what everyone else is doing. However, that does not mean that we should just wave a white flag.
Not only is it OK to set some limits and have expectations around how your children engage and use the technology in their lives, it is important that you do. Moreover, what is really important, Dr. Taffel suggests, is the way in which we set limits and engage with our children.
He argues that we need to work at finding a balance between empathy and expectations that is relevant in today’s world. This means remaining authentically engaged with our children, being truly interested and involved with them in the things that grab their attention, and taking the time to truly understand their world with them in an ongoing way.
It also means setting and maintaining limits in a way that they can relate to. How we present it must take into account how they are best able to hear it from us and must leave some room for some back and forth dialogue without descending into an all out conflict or war.
Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? Probably not. There are many reasons why parents should be concerned.
However, only you can really say for sure.
The fact that you are thinking about it and cautious is a good thing. Reach out, talk with other parents, open up the conversation with your kids and continue to set limits. It seems like you are already doing all of these things and I would urge you to continue.
If you are looking for more information, check out Dr. Ron Taffel’s work online or through his books available through the library for some more thoughts and ideas.
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