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Mindful Parenting in the Age of Connected Devices

by Dom Sagolla

Technology is evolving at a pace that is difficult for human relationships to absorb. It is not just that conversation has devolved. Our relationships to each other have been intermediated, interrupted. There is no situation more evident of this than our home life:

  • There is a “learned helplessness” infecting us, where it seems that “technology is doing things to us” instead of our being in control over the pace of advancement.
  • The conversation used to be about screen time: how many hours of television does your child watch per week? This seems like such a quaint question now.
  • Something even more incomprehensible affects younger children. Many kids under five are left to their own digital devices for hours at a time.
  • Even if this extended exposure is not deliberate, it is still entirely possible for children to choose this situation, or manipulate their way into it.

I have read a lot about this situation, and everyone agrees that “we have got to do something about it”. Nowhere have we seen a comprehensive guide containing What To Do and Fun Ways Of How To Do It. General advice seems to be:

  • Cut down on social media.
  • Do not text at the table.
  • Take a day off on the weekend or disconnect for a while, aka “take a vacation from your problems”.

Just, like, stop being the problem and practice mindfulness, or at least pay for a mindfulness course but do not actually do any of the stuff you learned because that is too much work.

Well, sure this is work. But you do not have to be a mindfulness expert to change just a few things and see a massive improvement in the relationships between you and your family.

My Approach

Things are much easier to remember when they are metaphorical. It is not too hard to imagine that we are lost on a frontier with no compass or guide. We are nerds, we like acronyms, right? So, let’s MAP IT:

MODEL: “Do as I say, not as I do” just will not work. Young people are often great observers, but sometimes poor interpreters. They will notice my habits, mimic them, and not even realize how or why they are doing it. I have got to actually show them how it is done. Every time I slip, they slip.

AGREE: Once I have led by example, then I am able to have a conversation about what kind of behavior I expect from my children. I make sure that we agree on boundaries ahead of time. I need their agreement before exposing them to strong media, or I risk losing their trust and attention. And this does not mean asking “okay?” at the end of every sentence.

PARTICIPATE: For children, play is the real work of life. Playing is the most important time of the day. The more I involve myself in their play, the more I learn about them and what is important to them. Also, this is much more fun than typing or phone calls or spreadsheets. Children turn to devices when they cannot have our attention — they want genuine parental interaction. So, let us give them the best of both worlds.

INTEGRATE: There is a lot of advice out there about taking “time off” from devices and technology. While I think this is important, this kind of “isolation” reminds me of an unsuccessful diet. I tried cutting back on carbs once. That lasted about a day. This kind of “binge-purge” cycle is just as harmful to the mind as it is to the body. Instead, I find ways to “snack” on technology and “put it in its place” both physically and metaphorically.
Adopt a “diet” of moderation with technology, while using the tricks and tools of software developers against them.

TRANSITION: The ultimate goal is to get a child to voluntarily give up the device or the activity peacefully and voluntarily. We have got to condition them: anticipate the change in activity, and give them a great alternative that shakes their brain out of the digital funk. This is the part that most “experts” forget: we can not just go cold turkey. Even an adult will feel let down when the TV turns off. We can get excited about the next thing, which in our case is usually running around outside, cooking, or eating. Gotta replace those brain chemicals somehow.

I guarantee that if you follow this approach, you will achieve much — if not all — of the following:

  • Awareness of (and maybe even improved) personal habits around your own technology consumption
  • A language for boundaries of digital activities in the home
  • A metric ton of fun playing games with your kids
  • An end to the vicious cycle of technology indulgence and deprivation
  • A few reliable methods for getting devices away from children without a fight

This article was excerpted with permission of the author from his blog, https://techwild.co/parenting-and-connected-devices-24c582825935.

Dom Sagolla is an engineer, lecturer, and community organizer who has helped build and test version one products such as Twitter, Obama '08 for iPhone, and Starbucks for the iPhone. He is co-founder and executive director of Developer Camp, a startup accelerator promoting diversity, inclusion, and equality in the tech sector. The Developer Camp "hackathon" has directly led to the creation of companies such as Square and open standards such as OAuth with an industry-leading 44% female participation rate. Dom is the author of 140 Characters: A style guide for the short form, published by Wiley, and Tech Wild: Mapping the frontier of technology and youth, published on Medium.