Thank you to Sarah Bourdon M.Ed., Registered Clinical Counsellor & owner of Calm Kids Counselling, for providing tips and advice on the importance of family communication.
Editors note: Though the opinions and information in this post are those of a qualified professional, the post is not intended to substitute/replace direct consultation with a qualified advisor or industry professional about your unique scenario.
Parents, like so many people, can become hooked on social media and technology. We are constantly checking to see who has texted, called, messaged, tweeted, Instagrammed, or posted something on Facebook. Often, we forego face-to-face exchanges in favour of quicker, easier ways of communicating. Real conversation has become less valued in this age of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants interaction.
Children are impacted by these changes as much as adults, if not more so. At young ages, kids are using phones and iPads to communicate from a distance rather than having in-person conversations. Instagram and Snapchat have become primary methods of communication between teenagers. Recent research shows that technology is having an effect on the development of conversation skills, interpersonal relationships, and empathy. Children need authentic attachment and connection, which cannot be properly provided by social media and devices. As social media expert Sherry Turkle writes in her book Reclaiming Conversation, “Time in simulation gets children ready for more simulation. Time with people teaches children how to be in a relationship, beginning with the ability to have a conversation.”
As a parent and a counsellor, I try to be mindful of technology’s impact on my own life; however, I still catch myself tuning out of what’s around me to stare at something on my phone. There are moments when I should be present with my kids, but I’m distracted by news articles or other people’s photos. I want to do better.
So how can we, as parents, provide a counter-balance to the inevitable influence that devices and social media have on our families? Make some rules! You are the parents, therefore you decide when and how these devices are used. If you can, explain your rules and the reasons for them to your children.
Here are some helpful rules for families:
1. Have scheduled “device times.” Allow TV or devices only between certain hours, such as after breakfast or in the hour before dinner, and have specific device-free days and times in your home. Turn off all devices and screens at least one hour before bedtime.
2. Eat meals together and do not allow devices at the table. This includes your phones, parents! Ensure that meals are a time for enjoying food together and socializing. This rule applies to restaurants, as well.
3. Talk to your kids about the skills involved in having a present and respectful conversation: making eye contact, listening attentively, and responding with empathy. Be a role model for these skills by being present in your own conversations with your children.
4. This one might be the most challenging (it certainly is for me)! When playing with your children, try not to multitask by using a device at the same time. Be present with your kids during an activity. When you do need to use your phone, iPad, or computer, as we all do, explain that you are spending time on a technology-related task and try to find a space that is separate from where your children are playing. This signals that technology time is separate from people time.
Technology doesn’t always have to hinder communication; it can also facilitate it. Here are a couple of suggestions for how parents can use technology to promote conversation:
1. Talk about the technology you’re using. If your child has been watching a show, ask him or her to tell you about the story. If your child is playing a video game or a game on the iPad, get him or her to teach you how to play. If you are posting a photo on Instagram, talk about that memory with your child. Technology offers many great chances for discussion and interaction, but we often miss these if we treat it as a way to tune out.
2. Work on family projects that use technology, such as making movies or photo collages. Create a family Instagram or Twitter account. Find video games that you can play together. Take advantage of the collaborative opportunities that technology can provide!
Moderating the use of technology can be challenging, but there are many positive benefits to prioritizing authentic, face-to-face conversation. Challenge yourself and your family to keep the conversation going!
For more on this topic, check out Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle and Unselfie by Michele Borba.