(This is the last installment in a three part series looking at how it is we might navigate raising children in the Age of Technology. To catch up, go to True North Part 1 & 2)
Over the past few weeks, we have looked at your ability to be present, along with the living of your values, as a way of approaching the challenges we face raising children in technology dominated times. Today, we turn our attention to your child. You do not need to be a developmental expert to know what is and is not appropriate for your child regarding the technologies. What you do need is a willingness to learn how to be present to who it is that stands before you. To pay attention in a way that allows you to make decisions that have everything to do with the truest needs of children. Pause for a moment and think about your child. What is the leading edge of the phase they are in, the thing that most characterizes where they are at at this time in their lives? Then, ask yourself, “How do the technologies fit/not fit with this?”
Childhood is the great unfolding. Without even getting into the specifics of each stage, we can keep a couple of things in mind; there are crucial windows of development and experiences in childhood set the stage for lifelong habits. Looking first at the various stages of childhood, we need to remember that every time period contains both opportunity and vulnerability. Further, each stage rests on the foundation of what came before. We serve our children best when we can match the demands of their growing with the very best of what the environment has to offer. And what the environment has to offer needs to be culled so that it supports the real needs of growing bodies, minds and spirits. Throughout childhood, every part of them is “coming online.” Would we not be prudent to thoroughly vet how, when and where the screens might be distorting our children’s development?
Secondly, we know that childhood is the time when lifelong tastes, preferences and habits are established. Think back to your own childhood remembering something that was the norm for you back then, but that as an adult you needed to be free of in order to be happier and healthier. How hard was that? Once established, our habits can be difficult to break from, even when we know they are not working for us. Could we learn to be more protective when choosing what to expose our children to, knowing that what they receive as children imprints them for life? Here is a short list of what we are habituating them to; the need for increased stimulation and immediate gratification, sleep deprivation, the inability to be alone or quiet, disconnection from their bodies, the view of others as objects to be deleted when not to their liking, decreased creativity, the need for repetition and over-exposure, desensitization to disrespectful and disturbing images, and the harmful belief that they, not the adults, are in charge. If our children are always learning about what to bring with them into adulthood, what is it that we want them to carry forward?
Without a doubt, we are in the midst of an unprecedented experiment, and our children are unquestionably the guinea pigs. Will they be able to undo the unintended consequences that life with technology brings? We could take the long view. We could be conservative. We do this all the time in other arenas like driving, drinking, voting, or getting married. We, the older generations, have come to the determination that these experiences exceed the developmental capacities of younger ages. This is not about deprivation or saying that technology is bad. It is about saying, “Not yet.”
P.S. In the end, raising children goes beyond tips, tricks and techniques. At its heart, this is about your presence, your ability to live your values and your capacity to discern the truest needs of your child.