Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keep Your Family Connected

Driving home the other night I noticed the flickering of one of the video screens that are now standard fare in many family vehicles. The kids in the back of the SUV were no doubt being entertained while mom had a little peace and quiet during the trip home. And of course there's nothing wrong with those cool, technical things we all have access to these days. I can think of numerous times when our kids were little when we would have welcomed a DVD (which wasn't invented then) to keep the kids busy on road trips.

We were one of those "Hey, don't make me come back there," kind of parents who definitely needed an extra tool now and then to help us make it to our destination without going crazy.

And while I, too, love the benefits of today's amazing technological gadgets, I see many children these days who are allowed to pretty much disconnect from their families because of them. Cell phones, iPods, DVDs, video games and the like have sadly become for many actual barriers between kids, their parents and the rest of the world.

Young people are allowed more and more to remain in their electronic cocoons any time they are not involved in school or their own activity of interest. And while I'm overstating the case a bit to make my point, it's possible that a child today could . . . wake up in the morning to his iPod, text a score of times during breakfast and before school, watch a video on the way to school in the carpool, spend numerous hours during the day on the computer, watch another video on the way home while texting some more, then retreat to their room to listen to more of their favorite songs, watch other videos or TV programs that afternoon and evening and then head for bed.

And the whole time they might have spoken two sentences to their parents or siblings!

And should they have opportunity along the way to ride with mom or dad to a ballgame, doctor's appointment or restaurant, they may again hide behind their ear buds while in their own virtual world.

So let me again make it clear that technology can be wonderful and has its place. Where would we be without DVRs, computers and smart-phones? But don't let electronics keep you and your kids (or spouse) from meaningful interaction and connection with you and others. Of course, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach or the perfect plan, but let me make a few suggestions.

First, make sure that the use of technology is a privilege not a right. Whether at home, in the car or at a friend's house, don't allow your kids to instantly or out of habit pop a DVD into the player or to pull out their ear buds for their mp3. Set a tone and atmosphere in your home and car that makes interaction with you, other family members or friends who are with you the priority and first choice.

We too often let the TV or video become our babysitter during legitimate times when our kids don't need one, they need us. Sure, on long trips some of those distractions can be helpful and appropriate. But take some time wherever you are to do some things together, to talk to one another, to share stories, to listen and to engage.

These family times are going to be precious and few when all is said and done. We simply dare not miss out on these special moments because we chose to look the other way or got too busy.

Let me also suggest that you think of some questions to ask your kids or spouse that don't have a yes or no answer. With younger children you can play the favorites game where you try to guess one another's favorites. Or instead of asking the proverbial, "How was school today?" question, try something like, "Tell me about the project you're working on in Mrs. Johnson's class" or "What's one of the things you like most about _____________.

If you have a group in the car or the whole family is together, suggest that everyone gets to talk about one thing they like so far about vacation, the new house, their youth pastor at church or whatever. It will take some preparation but it will be well worth it. And if they're at that I-don't-want-to-talk age, don't let them off the hook. They may be self-conscious and all that but you won't be helping them by giving in. Keep at it. Graciously find their hot button and topics they like to talk about and go for it.

Third, use limits. There are times when it's simply best that the video or TV stays off, the phones are out of sight and the headphones stay home. If their use is a privilege and not a right as I suggested earlier then this will be easier to enforce. Let your kids know that they need to ask first to use those things. As they get older teach them how to set their own limits and then expect them to keep them. Be the parent and lovingly, but firmly, say "no" sometimes and show them another, better option.

Tech privileges can also be a great bargaining or discipline tool that we can pull out when we need to have a consequence. Give your kids an amount of time that they can use their tech stuff and take it away in reasonable increments when they don't behave. However, be vigilant in keeping your word on this and if married make sure that you and your spouse hold to the plan.

Finally, use technology together when you can. Sometimes listening to music, watching a video or sending text messages can help us communicate and to be together in fun ways if we use them wisely. Talk about a movie when you're finished, play some games together on your Wii or research something on the computer.

Remember, we've been blessed to have so many helpful inventions that make our lives more fun, organized and productive. However, be sure that in your world, you control them and they don't control you or your kids! Oops. . . gotta go. I just got a text.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

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