By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
You might be expecting this article to suggest ways to use email, Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and all the latest technology to stay in touch with each other as a family. Indeed it will, shortly. And first we wish to extend a friendly reminder not to neglect all the tried-and-true parenting networking strategies that currently exist.
Face-to-face communication has been, is, and will continue to be the foremost connecting strategy for families. Yes, we are talking about the good old family meeting where we all gather around the dinner table or on the porch swing to share stories, goals, problems or viewpoints on the latest news items. Yes, we are talking about a one-on-one, face-to-face meeting to discuss a report card, process the latest youth soccer game, or talk about the best way to apologize to Grandpa. If you are not sitting together with a soft drink processing the movie you just saw together at the theater, you're missing an important family time. Discussing favorite characters, the plot, alternative endings, the use of humor and answering questions is a way to build feelings of belonging. All the new gadgetry that permeates our current existence will never replace what family members can experience when we share presence, eye contact, smiles, and time together.
That being said, we acknowledge that we now live in a new world. Communication is literally at our fingertips. The speed and the ease of that communication will continue to grow. Resisting it or fighting it will not work. It behooves us as parents to use the latest devices effectively to build family solidarity while we simultaneously model its appropriate use.
Adolescents and teens text. If you want to get in the communication flow with your older son, text him. When your teenage daughter seems moody and makes herself scarce, send her a text. If you're down in the basement and you want to know something from a child who is upstairs, send him or her a text. If you’re thinking about your son during the day, send him a text. He may not be able to receive it in school, but when he turns his phone on later, it will be there and pop up for him.
Email longer messages to your older children. Teach them how to send you an email picture of their science project. Ask for one. Send them electronic photos when you’re out of town. Keep them up to date on where you are and what you’re doing. (Younger children enjoy receiving the classic postcard. They love getting mail that comes just for them. The advantage here is they can carry a postcard around with them. They can put it on the wall in their bedroom.)
Facebook is useful for keeping extended family members connected. Grandma, in Arizona, will be thrilled with the photos you send of your children sledding during the first major snowfall. Your children will enjoy seeing pictures of their cousins splashing in the lake on their camping vacation.
The telephone was and continues to be a useful connecting strategy. Many of the new IPhones have face-to-face capability. It's now possible for you to be in San Francisco on business and read your children a bedtime story while they're in Albany, New York. And you can see each other at the same time.
Dangers lurk in the midst of the land of technology. So beware and be on guard. We know an adult who removed himself from Facebook because his extended family used only that delivery system for communication. "We never talk on the phone anymore," he told us. So he quit Facebook and uses the phone instead.
If you enjoy a family weekend at the lake or a vacation to visit relatives, beware of the Filled Ear phenomenon on the way home. The Filled Ear occurs when everyone jumps in the car and fills their ears with plugs that channel games, music and videos into their heads. Debrief that vacation the old fashioned way. Talk about it. Share your favorite memories. Tell what you want to do on the next trip. Process the experience as a family.
Cell phones are great for staying in touch. They are also great for staying out of touch. If you've ever been at a family gathering where someone is constantly checking their phone and texting people, you know what we mean. That creates distance, not closeness. We recently witnessed a mother pull her car into the pickup lane at school while talking on her cell phone. When her kids jumped in and buckled up, she kept on talking. She was still in the midst of conversation when she drove away. We were left wondering just when she intended to greet her children. Guess she was too busy.
If you go on a several-hour car trip, having a video or two along is appropriate. A video can calm the restless, create a needed diversion, and help you drive more safely. It can also occupy children’s total attention to the point where they end up missing the entire trip, scenery, and conversation. Family solidarity and the chance to build a sense of belonging can be lost in favor of the Lion King and endless cartoons.
Over the recent holiday season we witnessed a family having their once-a-year family get-together. The family included several adolescent cousins. One young man had received a Game Boy for Christmas. He spent the entire day sitting in the corner electronically entertaining himself. He missed the whole day of connecting with family. And the relatives missed a whole day of connecting with him.
To make sure technology is an aid to family time and not a hindrance, create a balance. Use it sparingly and with healthy limits. On a family trip, headphones are not a replacement for talking about what we want to do when we get to our destination. The video you brought can be used in conjunction with a stop at a rest area and a game of chase-and-tag to get the wiggles out. In communicating with your child at school, text her one day and the next write a personal note and leave it in her lunch box to be discovered at noon.
Manage media. Do not allow it to take over family time. Use it as a tool to strengthen family solidarity. Ask yourself frequently, Is technology helping me create distance or closeness in my family? What did I do today that used gadgets to move me in the direction I desire to go?
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of Parent Talk Essentials. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free Uncommon Parenting blog. To obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.uncommon-parenting.com.