“I'm trying to find my balance with electronics…. I am posting this here because I have posted this in other places and the responses have ranged from too much, too little, sell it all, get more electronics, etc. I want to find what works for us, realizing it's ok if it doesn't work for everyone…. Does anyone else struggle to find this balance? If you've found it, how did you find what eventually worked for your family?”
It all started with this post from a mom of two young boys in my I Heart Parenting community. The responses among my very conscious families on I Heart Parenting were as varied as the families in the group. Some aren’t limiting electronics at all, while others are severely limiting them and several families in between. One family realized that it was they, the parents, who were having trouble limiting themselves, so they drastically reduced their own electronics time for starters.
When I posted a question about how families handle media on my personal Facebook page, I was greeted with equally diverse answers and a couple of private messages sharing what they do in their families and why.
Could it be more complicated?
Start adding in the research about it and it is likely that you’ll end up being more clear about what you don’t want (which may be polar opposites) and less clear about how to get where you want to be.
I have my own challenges in the area of media. After following a limited media approach for early and middle childhood, we're exploring more flexibility now and are running into some challenges here, too. I really resonated with the question, too. I decided to reach out to some of my colleagues and see what they do in their families and what they suggest to the families they support, given their knowledge of the research and their focus on creating connection and putting the relationship first. How do they navigate this?
Despite the wide range of answers to the question from my colleagues, I heard all of these parents putting the relationship first. Most talked about having many open conversations with their child or children about media use, how they feel when they watch certain things, empowering them to make their own decisions in what they felt were age-appropriate ways, and support the child when they were struggling in some way because of media.
So many parts of parenting are somewhat timeless. Unlike bedtimes, sleeping arrangements, food, and other common parenting issues, we have no template for what to do with media, whether it worked for our parents or not. In other aspects of parenting, we decide whether or not we need to repeat what was done with us or decide whether we’d like to do them differently with our children. (Or just repeating by default, of course. Always an option.) It’s a little more challenging to feel our way through media because we don’t have anything to compare it to in our own lives as children.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have cable. The only electronic games we could play were Simon (remember that one?) and the early Atari games on our black and white console television. There is a bit more fear here for many of us just because this is uncharted territory for us. We didn’t grow up with Internet, let alone pocket sized computers we carry with us 24/7. We probably didn’t get our first smart phone until we were in our late 20’s or 30’s or even later, so what does our teen need to find her way through? We’re still trying to figure this out for ourselves and we’re supposed to be guiding our children through this at the same time. This is another situation where we’re learning to ride the bicycle while we’re building it.
So how do we figure out what’s going to work best in our family? How do we know what’s right? How can we balance our intuition and our fears that may or may not be logical and rational? How can we support our children to grow up to be emotionally healthy adults who know how to have a face-to-face relationship with other people in this world where so many of their interactions are happening virtually? How can we help them find their own balance with media use? How can we find it ourselves?
As I look at this issue, I realize that it warrants a much bigger discussion than a simple blog post. I’m going to write a series of articles over the next few weeks and months, and have some conversations with colleagues about this subject to give you some food for thought as you find your own path through this jungle so that you can stay connected to your children while you’re guiding them, which is what I think we all want. This week, we’re beginning by exploring the topic and recognizing the challenges here. Next week, we’ll be looking at limiting our children’s media exposure as a path. The following week, we’ll be looking at not putting overt limits on media. The last week, we’ll be exploring how to find your own way through each developmental phase to something that works for you and your family.
We’ll begin next Tuesday, July 22 with a conversation with my friend and colleague, Erika Elmuts of www.consciousparents.org as we kick off this discussion.
Please feel free to write your own media related questions in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them on the call. If you’d like to join us, here’s a link to sign up. Even if you can’t join us live, by signing up we can send you the recording and you’ll hear about additional calls as they’re added to the calendar. I hope you’ll join in this very important discussion, whether you’ve figured out what works for your family (and I hope you’ll share your secrets) or if you’re still trying to figure it out!