Parenting As An Act Of Rebellion
“If parents wish to preserve childhood for their own children, they must conceive of parenting as an act of rebellion against culture.” —Neil Postman
The more we advance into the technological era, parenting becomes a more complicated mission.
According to Neil Postman, one of the pioneers of media studies, "If parents wish to preserve childhood for their own children, they must conceive of parenting as an act of rebellion against culture.” In 1969, Postman already foresaw a trend that has just become stronger since then: "Americans no longer talk to each other; they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials."
Postman’s words take on a different dimension when you think about them in the context of communication through social media apps, such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and others. Families nowadays find themselves in a strange situation. On one hand, technological developments freed us from many chores that only a few generations ago consumed most of our time. On the other hand, these same technological advancements are now taking the time that was freed up.
The average time spent in front of a screen for youth these days is 8.5 hours per day. As adults we don't do better; we actually do worse with an average of 10 hours a day. And it seems like that trend is just increasing. Families spend less time together, but rather more time in parallel to each other, being in the same space but without true communication. In her book Reclaiming Conversation, sociologist Sherry Turkle from MIT claimed that one of the most painful subjects for youth nowadays is the lack of undivided attention from their parents. Turkle even gave this phenomena a name: "Alone together."
The price for the increasing disconnection between family members appears to be high. In the last decade, we are witnessing an increase of about 30% in depression and anxiety among youth. Research from Michigan University shows that the sharpest decrease in social abilities and empathy happen among youth that have an increasing level of exposure to digital media. If that is not enough, studies also show that children these days are not building enough tactile abilities. For example, tying shoelaces as a skill that just one generation ago would have been acquired at the average age of 4 is now acquired at the age of 8.
What can we do in order to build a family that will be more resilient and less vulnerable to the influence of digital technology? What will be "the act of rebellion?” It would be to put a limit to the endless demand of attention from our digital devices when we are together as a family. Declare a time that you meet as a family without interruptions. Let all your friends, bosses, and acquaintances know about it. This is your time to reconnect together and strengthen your family bond. But there is a caveat here: one of the influences of digital media is that it reduces our attention time, and conditions us to respond only to strong stimuli. This, together with the lack of training in face-to-face conversation can make a family meeting feel very odd, as if the communication is artificial and doesn’t flow.
From my experience in working with many families, including my own, the best way to enhance the family connection and to bring flowing conversation to our lives is to perform activities together such as walks in nature, playing non- competitive games, drawing, sculpting with clay, gardening, cooking, singing and playing music. Through these activities, it is easier to integrate heart-to-heart conversations, sharing and genuine communication. It is important to bring the emotional aspect where family members share how their day was, how they felt with their boss, colleagues or friends. This sharing and common brainstorming connects families together and teaches the children skills for their lives with their future families. This is how they will learn which content they will pour into their own families. When life brings its challenges, the children will know that there is someone that really listens to them and it will be only natural for them to ask for advice and support. Family activities and quality time creates an anchor for all family members. It helps the family to overcome loneliness that has become a common phenomenon in our society. Investing in creating this anchor of support and love is priceless.
Many of the executives of Silicon Valley and tech industries like the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo, admitted that when it comes to their families they keep a low tech environment. The same way they chose to protect their families, knowing the influence of their creations, we can decide to do the same.
Amir Cooper is an educator, writer, and healer. He guides programs that offer parenting and life skills to people of all ages, and has developed unique methods to help people live a life of breakthroughs and self-fulfillment. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (250) 497-8787 or visit www.healaura.com.