Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Technology Guilt


I can’t be the only parent who has felt the proverbial “short fall” to my initial plans for my children. Have you ever said, “When I’m a parent, I’ll never…”? For me, one of my big “I’ll never…” struggles has been TV. Allowing them a little TV show once in awhile to get a shower or complete a meal seemed so harmless. Over the years,  TV eventually turned into tablets and smart phones and before I knew it, I realized that sometimes I look up and everyone in the room is on some sort of device. When it comes to technology, it’s a daily struggle with me, whether I am making the right choices for my children. Even just the process of purchasing a smart item for them to gain access to more screen time is overwhelming.  Am I helping or hurting their development? Are they going to become smarter than me and be able to get around all the parental control passwords we set up? How dangerous it could be is an entirely different topic!

There are different stages that I have gone through with technology guilt:

Stage one: Guilt. This is where I am in complete denial of technology.

Stage two: Understanding.I feel okay with minimal uses of technology.

Stage three: Acceptance. Maybe getting a little too comfortable and allowing overuse of technology.

Stage four: Happy medium. Allowing use of technology, but being clear about limitations such as time constraints and parental controls to keep them from seeing things they shouldn’t.

We also make time to use technology together. My children thrive in the world of technology. They share what they learn with me, and teach others as well! As it was beautifully said, “We can’t prepare our kids for the world they will inhabit as adults by dragging them back to the world we lived in as kids.”

Life Unplugged

While we often talk about how much technology has sped up our already fast-paced lives, I believe technology has become a barrier to us experiencing life. As we walk along the beach, our heads are often down as we peer into the screen of an iPhone. When we update our Facebook statuses, we’re missing the waves crashing on the shore. At concerts we are so busy holding our iPads above our heads to capture a video that we actually aren’t listening to the band we came to hear.

And so I have consciously made the choice to live a semi-unplugged existence. I intentionally make phone calls to connect with others. To catch up with friends I make dinner plans. I use Facebook to view pictures and stay connected with out of town relatives but only post about once a week – if that. I use email at work but rarely for my personal communications. I use my iPhone as a camera to capture important moments. My goal is simple: I want to use technology to make my life easier, but I don’t want technology to take over my life. And yet, as it often happens with things for me, even as I profess my beliefs I come face-to-face with a situation that causes me to question my strong convictions.

A few weeks ago I made a quick jaunt to Cleveland to watch my two nephews play football. As I was packing up to head back home, my youngest nephew voiced his disappointment that I was leaving prior to watching the Michigan vs. Notre Dame football game that was to air that evening. Laden with guilt about disappointing him, I almost changed plans and stayed put, but I couldn’t. So home I went. Later that evening when out with friends watching the game, I decided to text my nephew to get his opinion on a controversial call made by a referee. Much to my delight he responded quickly and voiced a similar opinion to my own. The bantering back and forth continued throughout the game. Cheering together on first downs and touchdowns and ranting together when our team fell short. In the end we celebrated with a text that contained the words of the Michigan fight song when our team was victorious. And I must admit, though I was clearly not 100 percent present in the moment with my friends who were watching the game with me, I was very present and connected with my nephew who was 250 miles away!

And what is even more exciting to me is that the connection continues. The very next day while watching the Bengals football game, he texted me again. And I was delighted! This has now become something do. When we can’t be together to watch the games, we will reach out and share a moment through text messages.

Does this mean I am rethinking my strong convictions about living semi-unplugged?  To outsiders it may look that way, but I am still going to work hard to make conscious choices about technology. Making these kinds of decisions are a challenge unique to the current generation of parents. We really need to think about the “life” choices we make, the behaviors we’re modeling for our children that will help them understand what is important. I will still contend that slowing down and being present in the moment is of greater value than living a fast-paced life where immediacy is highly valued. But this is just where I stand on technology – where do you stand?


Is Technology Replacing Parenting?

Photo courtesy of Wesley Fryer

Check out our About the Authors page for an introduction to our new blog authors, Carolyn Brinkmann and Debbie Bruemmer!

I must admit that I am a television watcher and a computer user. I have my certain shows on TV that I truly enjoy watching. These shows make me laugh, are a source of relaxation and oh, how I enjoy the drama of it all! I use my computer almost non-stop at work and truly would be lost without it. Like so many others, I use technology to relax, to connect, to find resources, to organize my thoughts and to distract me from the real world–but when does it go too far? And as parents, are we being replaced by technology?

Parents have a lot of questions about what technology is good for their kids, and what they should avoid. Recently a parent was asking my opinion on the “My Baby Can Read” videos and whether she should use those with her child. Debbie has blogged about these DVDs before, but if you aren’t familiar, they are similar to the “Baby Einstein” videos in that you place your young child in front of the television to absorb information, which is far from the most effective way to help your child develop early language and literacy skills. Giving your child the latest in computer based storybooks, which allow a parent to press a button and let the computer do the reading, instead of sitting down and sharing the experience with their child, is no better.

We know, just by living in our society, that technology has replaced many traditional forms of communicating and relating. More and more adults meet on the internet, we text now instead of talking on the phone and social media seems to be replacing get-togethers with friends and family. Does that mean we would use social media or technology sources to parent our children? What is technology’s potential impact on the parent/child relationship? Is there a difference in using technology to improve our parenting versus using it to replace our interactions with our children? I would say the answer is YES!

Using technology allows us to connect us to parenting resources, and parenting Web sites can be extremely valuable. I don’t know about yours, but the children in my life did not come with an “owners manual,” so being able to access information and connect with parents who are dealing with similar circumstances is helpful. However, I find that I have to use what I learn in the context of my relationship with the children in my life. I cannot simply take what another person says or does and apply it. I have to remember who I am, who my child is, how we communicate and what is important to us. My dad always said that he raised my siblings and I differently, that he tried to figure out what was important to each of us, what we needed as individuals. He built relationships with my siblings and based his parenting style on what he observed.

Though resources and advice can serve as a guide, it cannot replace what you learn as you relate and communicate with your own child. My fear about instructional videos, television shows and technologies that replace parent interactions is that we lose the opportunities to connect to our own children. I get that the world is a hectic place, that time is limited and parents are often pulled in several directions. Using the television or videos to occupy a child while you prepare dinner or drive may seem like it is necessary… but is it? Could those moments be filled with conversations with your child, or finding a way for them to be involved in what is going on?

The relationship a child develops with his or her parent is, by far, the most important relationship in his or her life. This is the relationship by which all other future relationships will be judged and formed. The attachment, safety and confidence built between us and our children will carry them forward into other relationships. Reading to your child, teaching your child and engaging them in conversations about their lives and the world are opportunities that clearly enhance the parent/child relationship. There is so much technology out there to make our lives simpler –  maybe when it comes to parenting we should resist the urge to take the easier way.

– Carolyn