I am coining a new phrase -- digital parenting. This refers to those parents who live hectic lives: working, socializing, traveling, and raising their children digitally. With the advent of i-phones and i-pads, i-parenting is taking over in some households. Leaving messages for children to do chores, reminders to do homework, and schedules are taking the place of face-to-face communication. Sending texts, e-mails, and IMing are taking the place of face-to-face communication. Referencing articles, television shows, and news reports is taking the place of face-to-face communication. Parents giving children toys that read stories to them instead of reading to them themselves are losing face-to-face communication.
A digital mom of a 15 year old said to me a short time ago, "You seem to have a great relationship with your children. How can I talk with my son?" I wanted to tell her that it was too late, that you develop a relationship from birth, talking, playing, listening, spending time together, laughing, sharing, teaching, disciplining, loving. You can't allow television, computers, video games, day care providers, coaches, and teachers to raise your child. You need to be an important piece of the equation. Then, when your child is 15, you will have developed a base that allows him to be confident that you are there, care, and are concerned for his well-being. What I did say was, "Well, you could start by unplugging for a weekend - the whole family. Spend the weekend playing games together, doing chores together, running errands together, and talking. Find something that you all love and do it together - no cell phones, ipads, laptops, televisions, ipods, or any other electronic distractions. Have meals together at the same time at the same table." She looked at me as though I had suggested that she cut off her arm, shrugged, and said, "Well, that's not going to happen."
When I drive along the road and see a Mom sitting in the front seat, driving, and two children sitting in the back with ear buds in their ears, staring at DVD screens, I am sad. When I see a family riding in a car and three children are in the back, individually playing video games on their Game Boys I am sad. When I see children with ear buds in their ears listening to different music, I am sad. Digital parents should realize that car time is captive audience time. While "trapped" in the car, parents and children have the opportunity to play word games, I Spy, number games, sing songs, review the events of the day, talk about the future, laugh together, basically, learn about each other's lives and connect. Allowing this time to slip by is really allowing your children to slip a little more away from you.
I know that I run the risk of sounding old fashioned. I am not an enemy of technology. I love my electronic toys - MacBook Air, Ipod, Apple TV, DVD, GPS, etc. -- but there is so much to be gained when they are turned off, when you are inaccessible and unplugged to the outside world. There are times when you need to communicate with people one-to-one and face-to-face -- especially your children.