I was in a workshop recently where one of the participants said she was working with a 12 year-old boy who told her, “My family is like a bunch of marbles, we bump into each once in awhile but then we just roll back into our corners.” I think this image from this insightful young man is powerful and profound. He is expressing the malady of our time. Our homes are filled with gadgets and games, TVs and computers—any number of things to keep us entertained and distracted. We know that Twitter, Facebook, and Texting are teaching our older adolescents to keep relationships remote and not personal. Teens no longer have to “look people in the eye” or even stand behind most of the banter they write. Social media is replacing social-izing. But what is happening in our homes? What is being replaced there-- and how are we, as parents, helping to replace it? I talk to mothers who are racked with guilt over their addiction to their computers, while their young children are endlessly vying for their attention. I recently spoke to an 18 year-old young client who said “I forgot what my father looks like because he has a computer in front of his face and talks to me from behind it.” This lack of conscious attention causes us to lose our family cohesion--that is, the glue that fastens us to our family identity and secures the interrelationship bond that keeps us connected.
The techno-world takes soul out of the home. A truly soulful and heart-connected family will create an environment at home that-- encourages conversation, relies on imagination apart from technology, actively seeks out a relationship with nature and reading, and, most importantly, manifests an appreciation for family rituals. Parents who model a sense of self that is defined separately from all this busy-ness will likely have children who have a sense-of-self apart from the daily barrage of social media. The earlier parents can start creating a home that is “plugged-in” differently, the deeper their child’s engagement with relationships and reality will be. Some ideas for re-instating this aspect of home might be:
If you have a young child you are constantly putting on hold, keep a timer next to your computer—show your child the timer and the time you are setting it for. When it goes off–stop and close your computer. The idea is to show children that you control the computer; the computer does not control you. As your child gets older, use this method to regulate his/her time on the computer and it will become ingrained that there is a protocol for time limits on the computer that even their parents follow.
Display a world map at your home near the dinner table. Discuss world news and show children where countries are. Don’t bring negative complaints to the dinner hour—bring ideas and interesting conversation. Bring the outside world inside so your child doesn’t come to believe everything happens on a computer.
Take family walks or hikes. Keep children connected to nature. Don’t think because they play outdoors that they are creating a relationship with nature. Again, a beautiful 3-D photograph on the computer is not nature.
Play interactive family games instead of handing your child a device to play solo while with the family. Laughing with the family builds deep internal bonds between family members.
Create many family rituals. This is the single most important soulful activity of a family. Our rituals provide rich opportunities for connection and meaningful interaction. Sadly, our rituals are being lost and re-placed by the technological wizardry that surrounds us. Small everyday rituals deepen family connections.
It’s our job to help children see a world that is not created through what someone says or shows them on the Internet. They need to know that the “real” world is what we provide for them through our family rituals and our attentiveness to helping them work out the deeper issues of their life (and a three year-old feels his/her deeper issues deeply). We must not drift away from our connection to--and the meaning of, home. Technology is brilliant. But it will never be as brilliant as the meaning that comes from a deeply connected family.