Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Parenting Unplugged

I was sitting at my daughter's piano lesson this week, and I observed the following dad and son "interaction." Not once in this half hour time slot did they speak to one another. Each was engaged in his own electronic world.

Wired In but Checked Out

Dad and Son sitting side by side.
Dad punches keys on his laptop in a zombie-like hypnosis.
Son shoots bad guys on his Game Boy. *Bang*Pow*Stuff blows up*
Father-Son Bonding...
in the Electronic Age.
WI FI...I say WHY FI?
and I wonder, Why Parent?


Our ever-present, instant, 24/7 shiny gadgets, gives us so many more ways to ignore our children. We are living in a world of constant connectedness. Yet, we have never been more disconnected personally from our loved ones. We are constantly texting, IM'ing, gaming, downloading, emailing, phoning, surfing...Are we really connecting to other humans though? I would answer "no."

Unfortunately, my daughter was just introduced to the addictive WebKinz world. On the surface, WebKinz toys appear to be innocuous cute stuffed animals. However, I have found them to be the most addictive form of electronic crack to ever be marketed to children.

After the child enters the secret tag code on the Webkinz website, he/she is now expected to daily keep their pet happy, fed and loved. Every day, my daughter feels compelled to log on to the site to make sure that her pet hasn't died. Of course, there are also games to play, things to buy for your pet, etc. I have found that I need to limit her computer time to 30 minutes per day, or she would be clicking away for hours. Argh, she has been sucked into the Internet whirlpool.

Today, a friend of mine confided that she and her son recently discussed the best and worst parts of their day. He told her, "The worst part of my day is that you spent an hour on the telephone." She was saddened by his response, and was determined to make a point of really being "there" during family time in the future. Missed phone calls can be returned after bedtime. Good bonding time with our children cannot be retrieved from the sand slipping through the hourglass.

I admit it. My computer calls to me. It beckons for me to waste some time there. I attempt to resist when my daughter is with me.

Thinking of this, I wrote the following parental mission statement in my journal.

Today I looked at you and I really saw you. I erased all of the niggling to-do lists from my brain and I really listened to you. I didn't just hear your words with my ears...I also listened with my heart to the deeper meanings that you were attempting to convey to me. I watched your facial expressions. I saw how your eyes crinked at the corners when you were excited. I noticed the way that your mouth turned down when you told me something that was disappointing to you. When we were together, I was really present, engaged and checked in. I owe that to you.

Why is it so easy to plug our children in to Ipods, Game Boys, WII, PSI, 2, 3, computers, etc.? And, why is it so hard for us to unplug ourselves from the same items, plus our Blackberries, IPhones, Laptops, cell phones, etc??? Precious time is ticking away, Parents. You are going to look up from your gadgets one day, and you will find that their childhood is gone and you missed it. UNPLUG!

Yes, parenting is hard. Communicating with our children can be hard. However, I have found nothing more rewarding than having a conversation with my daughter. At the age of almost-10, she is a fascinating human being. She has interesting observations and asks tough questions. I often learn things from her.

So, here's my unsolicited advice for today. Unplug all of your gadgets. No one needs to be as "connected" as we are in the 21st century. I implore you to take your children out into nature. Play some good old fashioned board games. Talk. Connect! Find out what's going on in your child's head. You just might be surprised.

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