We’ve just returned from a family vacation. Quality time spent with my husband and three adult children. I should feel happy, rested and rejuvenated, right?
To be honest, on the final day, we were all a little desperate to pull into our driveway and go our separate ways. The last couple of days of the vacation we were getting on each others’ nerves and I take some responsibility. The title of this blog came out of my mouth after attempts early on to make a similar request in a more kind and compassionate manner.
I suppose I should feel grateful that a 20, 19 and 16-year-old child would be willing to go on a 7-day vacation with their parents. Kids at this age feel they are missing out on the happenings with their friends. In this age of instant communication, it’s nearly impossible for them to detach. I don’t think I’m alone when I say most teenage kids now hold an expensive, brain rotting rectangle in their hands 24/7. (Was that too harsh?)
Every parent struggles with the first tough decision when it comes to a smart phone: what is the right age for a child to have one? Our eldest was very independent and rode his bike everywhere. The decision to purchase a phone for him was one of safety. By the third child we succumbed to the “everyone-in-my-grade-has-one” speech and gave in. The second tough decision is managing the use. The overage charges from going over our allowed data was a logical argument that initially solved some of the usage challenges. Since I travel for work I became a culprit of going over on data too, so it only made sense for us to go to an unlimited plan, giving our kids full license to stay on their phones more often.
But I’m holding you in suspense. What caused all the stress on vacation? Allow me to share some observations and tell me if these strike a nerve with you:
Just about every five minutes, my youngest tilting his head to the side, making a quirky smile and then texting. You know what I’m describing: the endless Snapchat.
Re-taking pictures because they needed to be perfect for posting. Or, an argument ensuing after the photo was taken over who could post the “good” picture first on their own Instagram. (God forbid we all share the same fun moment.)
We are out to dinner and before we sit down we need to gently ask our kids to put their phones away. All three look at us strangely as if to say: “we’ve been together all day, why do we need to talk now?”
If you are a member of my generation, it’s likely that your parents told you that “TV would rot your brain” if you had been watching it for more than an hour. Rot your brain? Not really. Force you to disconnect with the world around you, yes. I can understand how my parents felt because this new age in which we live is a constant struggle for me too. I teach Fortune 500 companies communication and coaching skills. I believe in the value of the spoken word. I use a voice texting app so people can hear my voice and properly interpret the tone of my message. I also have a passion for health and wellness and understand the value of sharing what I know from personal experience on social media. I struggle with what and how often to post so its valuable and not an annoyance. I believe that like every era of humanity, technology should supplement, not replace, our face-to-face relationships.
I want my kids to ask themselves how these modern-day platforms of communication bring them joy and real connection or jealousy and loneliness.
I want them to send a thoughtful, hand-written thank you note to their grandparents for the birthday gift they received.
I’d like to get a voicemail occasionally instead of a text telling me they are okay and they’ll be home soon.
I want them to look up from their hand-held device, look me in the eye the first time I ask the question and provide a thoughtful, sincere answer rather than a quick, blind, knee-jerk reaction.
When they start a career, I want them to walk over to their colleague’s desk and provide an answer to the question instead of texting him or her.
Is there a difference between looking down at your phone while out to dinner with friends and instantly sending my brother who lives 3k miles away a photo of his nieces and nephews? Sure there is.
Leveraging technology means learning when it is enhancing rather than detracting from relationships. Using an app like Slack to send a work team an important change that affects everyone’s work is efficient. Checking my newsfeed 15 times before lunch without even realizing it is well…troubling.
So, what’s the answer? How do we teach our kids the role and value of brief, modern communication? I’m a work in progress when it comes to finding a balance with my own kids. But, like any other challenge, I suppose the best way to handle it is with open, honest and VERBAL communication.