29 September 2014, by Petrina Kow
Hands up those of you who have used electronic devices to ‘distract’ our kids whilst we attend to important business calls or even check Facebook? It is a common occurrence to see parents having a peaceful meal whilst the child has an iPad perched right in front of their dinner. This is usually coupled with some caregiver, usually the helper, deftly shoveling minced food into the mouths of these kids who are busy shooting flappy birds or slicing fruits like ninjas. Let me be the first to admit that I’m completely guilty of this. I have found myself more caught up in Instagramming my kids doing cool things than actually DOING these cool things with my kids. Whilst we have now managed to eliminate the need for all devices at meal times, I am fully aware of how easy it is to judge parents who do this because they need to get through a meal. I was there. I totally get it. But is it good for our kids? Is it good for us?
The digital revolution has really made our lives so much easier and more convenient, but at the same time so much more complicated. Sometimes to the point where we ask ourselves, “How did our parents do it without any iBabysitters?” The excuse I always hear is, “but it’s an educational app. They are learning how to read and write.” Hard to argue with that, but after reading an article that was recently published in the Financial Times about how Steve Jobs would never let his kids touch the iPad or iPhone, it really got me thinking. I remember how we used to be slightly fanatical about their TV exposure and the kinds of cartoons they watch. We even cancelled our Disney subscription because of certain programs. And my husband produced Animation! People who knew us would be very perplexed and were always very curious to find out why we didn’t even have a TV in the house. But the reason was precisely what Steve Jobs and many other CEOs of big media companies are acutely aware of.
We know the dangers of how addictive these devices and games are DESIGNED to be and we have seen firsthand how hard it is to break that habit once it’s formed. I mean, let’s be honest. There’s no turning back from the digital age, but the results of extensive studies have now shown that too much exposure to screen time especially before the age of 5, can have adverse effects to their nervous system, brain functioning and the list goes on. If we can delay the inevitable or better yet, not even have it feature in our house, then all the better. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not depriving our children of technology! Au contraire, I just don’t think we should forget about our fundamental role as parents to raise our kids to be happy, thriving and purposeful individuals. And one of the fundamental skills we need to encourage is their socio-emotional connections and communication skills.
I saw a sign today outside a cafe that stated, “NO WI-FI, Talk to each other!” and thought to myself, how nice of these owners to champion the need to get back to basics. To try and connect with others the old fashioned way and not through wi-fi. I am all about embracing technology and using it to enhance our lives, but yet I’m also very aware of how our communication skills are in jeopardy because we don’t exercise those muscles enough. In my work as a public speaking and voice coach, I’m constantly reminded of how our main communication tool, ie our mouths, have been slowly replaced by our finger! Sure, a carefully arranged configuration of our fingers can send a strong message to someone, but unless you are signing, I think we should still engage our oral capabilities whilst we can.
So much of our ‘communication’ with our children can be so instructional and transactional. Do this, finish that, only when this happens does this other thing happen. Your child only hears you bark orders at them and not actually talk to them. No wonder they’ve stopped listening to you. This applies even to very young babies. Studies have now shown that even tiny babies can detect tone in their parents’ voices and can easily become distressed when they detect an unpleasant tone. It’s almost as if you have to ‘woo’ your kids. Get them talking. Have a conversation. Ask open ended questions. Play games. Have fun.
I have been reading a great book recently called “Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict and Increase Intimacy” by prominent neuroscientists Andrew B. Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman. Allow me to share 3 tips that I found really useful in reminding myself to engage rather than enrage especially with the challenges I’ve faced with my firstborn.
So here it is. My summary of How to Practice Collaborative Communication in 3 (not so easy) Steps.
- Explore, don’t Interrogate.
- Understand, don’t judge.
- Join, don’t fix.
I have used this countless of times now with my hitherto aforementioned ‘problem’ child. And I kid you not. It works like a DREAM. Every time. Try it today! It’s free. Does not need to be charged and is not dependent on internet connection!