Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Monday, 11 March 2013
A few weeks ago my 13 year-old dropped her telephone… into the bath. There was a scream. Then tears. Then frantic attempts to open the phone and dry it out. Her panic slowly subsided and was replaced with hope as she attempted to restart the phone.
It didn’t work.
Several attempts followed throughout the evening, and the following morning, and after school, and during the next evening. Still nothing. The phone was dead – drowned.
The requests for a new phone started immediately. And we said ‘no’.
Our daughter began to retreat into her quiet place, mumbling something about ‘my precious’ while rocking backwards and forwards, hugging her knees.
Our daughter had agreed to a ‘phone contract’ with us, much like the one made famous by a mum-blogger earlier in the year. She was pretty good with it, but blurred the boundaries from time to time – as evidenced by the fact that she was in the bathroom with her phone. I mean, seriously… do you really need your phone in the bathroom?
After considering her need for a phone, we decided against it.
Needs vs wants
I’ll be the first to admit that there are times when it’s a little inconvenient that our daughter can’t be contacted. Instead of texting her we have to ring the school and ask that a message be sent to her classroom. Sometimes we wonder where she is, and we can’t call to find out.
But since this is a rare occurrence we decided that this was no justification for a phone. What it really comes down to, though, is that we actually think our kids are better off without phones, i-pads (or tablets), or any other devices. Part of this comes down to our parenting philosophy. The thing is, it’s not a need. It’s a want.
And it’s quite amazing… our kids really can survive just fine without the phone and computer. It makes sense though – I mean most of us probably survived until at least our twenties before we felt we needed a phone.
What does research say?
It’s not just a philosophical preference that keeps us from giving our daughter another phone – with its attendant increase of screen time. It’s also based on research.
There are some advantages to our kids having computer and smart phone access. Some data tells us that computer games can help kids with ADHD, hand-eye coordination, and there are also some associations between computer use and literacy and numeracy skills in young children. There’s some reason to think that these advantages are applicable to smart phone and tablet use as well.
So it’s not accurate to say ‘computers, smart phones, and tablets are bad for kids and we shouldn’t have them.’ There are clearly some positive outcomes linked to their use.Besides, most parents recognise that their child’s familiarity with technology makes a difference for them at school.
But research also tells us that too much screen time, or the wrong kinds of screen time, can have a strong negative impact.
- First, there’s the debate (still ongoing) about whether phones are responsible for cancer, or not.
- There’s also the question of how we are to deal with the addictive nature of the phone or tablet as ‘an appendage’ – the phone becomes the child!
- Phones and tablets give our kids access to lots of games, including violent ones. Violent screen time is shown to cause violent behaviour
- Phones and tablets (and computers generally) are time wasters. Our kids sit on their bums and play instead of getting off their bums to play. Excessive screen time has a negative effect on physical health
- There are some who argue that links also exist between children’s mobile phone use and behavioural problems (withdrawal when phone off, anger), cognitive problems (always needing stimulation), and social problems (trouble connecting with people in the real world).
- Excessive phone and tablet use is also related to lack of sleep, and high levels of fatigue.
- Excessive phone use (and screen time) rewires our children’s brains. They become addicted to stimulation.
It boils down to this: I just don’t think our kids need the phone... and I think the data points in that same direction.
I do think they need opportunities to be kids, to be curious about the world they live in, they need to learn how to have a few rich relationships, and to learn to talk with a person face to face. They need to get at least an hour of vigorous activity each day. They need to be bored, to read real books, and to climb trees, ride bikes, or swim or run.
And they don’t need helicopter parents ringing them several times a day ‘just to check that you’re alright’.
If you can’t bear to leave your children without a phone, get a cheap phone that does talk and text only. Have it as a ‘loan’ phone for those times where you think it’s absolutely necessary. It’s cheaper, safer, and doesn’t come with all of those other side effects.
Ultimately, our kids need smart parents, not smart phones.
What do you think? Are kids today in need of a phone? Or should they be able to survive without one.
Friday, 8 March 2013
You know those difficult times when you’re in public and someone else’s child is doing things you’d prefer they didn’t do. It can get pretty tricky.
My most recent video gives you a few tips on how to deal with your own emotions, the difficult child, and the even more difficult ‘other’ parents.
(Hmmm… and I probably should get my video editor to change the screen shot… that’s a pretty funny face!)
Friday, 1 March 2013
Wednesday, 27 February 2013
In a recent post I shared five things that every parent should avoid saying to their kids. It left me feeing pretty lousy. It’s one thing to focus on the negative, and we need to go there from time to time. But if we’re going to eliminate the negative it’s nice to know what to replace it with.
So, here are five things we might focus on saying to our children as often as possible.
Gratitude is a powerful motivator. It makes our kids feel appreciated. And saying thank you also models manners and gratitude for them to follow. Saying thanks and explaining why you’re saying it can have a powerful impact on a relationship between parent and child.
I’m sorry. I’m still learning, just like you
Parents who act like they’re the finished product who are simply there to impart wisdom to their children leave their children feeling judged and imperfect. But when we acknowledge our mistakes and describe how we are learning to be better people because of those mistakes, our children learn that it’s ok to admit fault and try again. This is a powerful and important lesson for our kids.
I watched how much effort you put in – you seemed to give it all you had
Because parents want their children to succeed, it can be easy to always ask for more, demanding ever increasing levels of performance. The pursuit of perfection will always lead to disappointment. However, when we let our kids know we saw how hard they tried, and let them know we are satisfied while ever they do their best, they’ll be inspired to try – and they won’t feel bad if they fail. Instead, they’ll be open to learning how to do better.
I love you
Every child should hear this every day. But they shouldn’t just hear it. They need to see and experience evidence of it in all of their interactions with us.
As we say more of these beautiful and important things, and fewer of those harmful things, our kids are more likely to grow up feeling secure, confident, happy, and loved.
What do you think?
If we want to have responsible children, they need to be given responsibility. One of the most powerful ways to help them become responsible is to stop telling them what to do, and instead, to ask them what they think they should do. Then we can encourage them (or gently guide them). By asking them what they think, our children also develop a trust in their own opinions, ideas, and instincts.
Monday, 25 February 2013
Jen (not her real name) was mortified. Her eight year-old daughter, Maddy (also not her real name) had burst through the front door bawling her eyes out after her first day of school. After sobbing on her mum’s shoulder for several minutes, Maddy had finally been able to explain that third grade class allocations had left her in a room without her three best friends. She only had one friend in the new class.
Jen was livid. (I laughed when she told me, until I realised she was serious.) She stormed down the street to her daughter’s school, entered the administration building and demanded her daughter be placed in the same class as her best friends.
A taxonomy of parenting types
In recent years we have experienced an explosion in clever names for various parenting-types. Helicopter parents ‘hover’ over their children, paying close attention to anything and everything that comes into their environment, keeping them safe at all costs. Tiger mums over-parent in a different way, pushing their children to be ‘all that they can be’, driving them harder and harder towards mastery in spite of protestations and developmental norms.
Snow plow parents are another type of (arguably) over-invested parent who believe it is their role to smooth the path for their kids, pushing all of the obstacles out of the way so that they don’t have to endure hardships, bumps, and other difficulties along their ‘path’ of life. It’s another form of ‘taking control’, with an emphasis on making sure we do whatever it takes to be certain our kids have successes without needing to fail.
Is there a problem with that?
All of these parents want the best for their kids, like all parents. The difficulty lies in the way they try to bring ‘the best’ about. In all three cases, the parent appears unwilling to allow the child to experience setback and failure. In fact, the parents seems unwilling to allow the child to do anything at all that they might not do perfectly.
“Can’t make your bed properly? That’s ok… I’ll do it so it’s perfect.
“Struggling with your homework project? Here, let me handle that. I’ll ‘help’.
“Your friends don’t think the phone you’ve got is cool enough? Alright, I’ll get you a touchphone.”
I’m not advocating that we should make our kids suffer. I’m not suggesting we should leave them hanging by a thread and let them figure it all out on their own… but would that be such a bad thing if they were left dangling (figuratively speaking) and had to work out how to hang on or where to land?
Snow plow parenting promotes helplessness in kids
The quicker we push obstacles out of the way, the more our children rely on us to continue to do precisely that. They stop thinking for themselves. They don’t see themselves as people with the capacity to ‘act’. Instead, they feel that life will ‘act on them’, or that we will ‘act for them.’ Neither response to challenge is helpful. Neither response leads to development.
Teaching competence to our children
What are the times you have felt most competent or felt you had achieved something worthwhile? Was it when you were better than everyone? When you were in your element and were surrounded by supportive people? When everything worked out just right and you aced it?
Or did you feel most competent – like you had achieved something great – that time where you felt entirely isolated, where you felt like you barely had a clue how to do it, but you stuck at it. You were tenacious. You dug deep and found some determination to not let that thing beat you, even though you were doing it on your own?
While both feel good, I bet I know which one felt better. It was the one where you didn’t know if you’d get through it… the one where you encountered challenge upon challenge, and setback after setback. You probably failed, made mistakes, had to start over, and maybe even had a little cry in your pillow.
But at the end, after you pushed through it, the feeling of having achieved something hard was yours to savour. It made you stronger, more independent, and left you feeling more capable.
That is what makes for successful kids. Not parents who get all the hard stuff out of the way for them.
What to do about it?
Kids having a hard time with their musical instrument of choice? Son not wanting to keep playing that sport he begged to play? Or not in the right class with their friends at school? Or failing a subject? Or fighting with a best friend?
While we don’t want to torture our children and go all ‘tiger mum’ on them, this is where we have the opportunity to teach them about challenges and failures while they are young.
What can we do about it?
- Teach them that anything worthwhile takes effort
- Teach them that everyone fails and that’s ok. What matters is what you do next.
- Be patient, compassionate, supportive – and firm.
- Promote the idea that learning and mastery matter more than results
- After they’ve genuinely ‘seen it through’, let them decide.
Is there ever a time that we should remove obstacles from our kids’ path? When have you wanted to, but held back?