Technology In Our Homes
“As concerned parents, as concerned human beings, let us always remember that the best place to start improving the world is at home.” — Annemarie Colbin
Home is where it all begins. At its best, our home life is what nourishes, protects, and sustains us — kids and grown-ups alike. Given how important this is, how can we create a place that nurtures and protects the real needs of our children?
This is a difficult question to delve into, which is perhaps why so few of us ask it. Many of us are so caught up in the doing and the keeping up with it all that our homes, and therefore our children, are forgotten in important and significant ways. This has dire consequences for them — and for us. In our absences, both literal and emotional, our children have turned to technology to give them what they need in terms of guidance and connection. We are putting them in the hands of something that does not, cannot, and will never, ever truly care about them.
We are taking a tremendous risk when we ignore the costs of allowing technology to be the most important thing in our children’s lives. Whatever we allow into our homes and into our children’s lives should be a powerful and congruent reflection of what they truly need and what we value most. And so I ask you, when was it that we traded the developmental needs of our children and the needs of our families for flat screens, iPods, and X-Boxes, deluding ourselves into believing that these are the makings of a good home? Why have we made our devices a priority over the people we live with? We need to ask ourselves, “While we’re out running the rat race, who’s keeping an eye out for the real needs of our children?”
This is not about being supermom or a helicopter parent. It is not about being the CEO of your kids. Nor is it about turning your child into a project or an extension of yourself. What it is about is turning our homes into sanctuaries, places where our children’s real needs are honored.
To be sure, there are obstacles. Many of us live far from our families of origin and the neighbors we grew up with, leaving us without a sense of support and continuity. We are so busy, that often, attending to the details of home life and our children’s needs feel like too much of a burden. We are brainwashed 24/7 by marketing that tells us what our families need in order to be successful and happy, which in all actuality runs counter to their true well-being.
And then there are the experts who tell us what our children need; while at times helpful, more often than not their advice leaves us trying to catch up and measure up, all the while robbing us of our own internal guidance and common sense. Between our distracted busyness, the advertisers and the experts, we have trouble remembering that every child needs an environment that sustains them. A place where their real needs — an important conversation, a hug, a reminder, a wholesome snack, a limit — are met.
A People-Centered Home
Pause for a moment and ask yourself, “Is my home screen-centered or people-centered?” A screen-centered home puts devices front and center in the physical spaces. The screens dictate how you spend your time and take priority over time spent with others in your home. Look at the overall flow, rhythm and feel of your home. Does it feel good to you? You do not need to consult an expert — you are the expert.
What does it feel like to be in your home? Relaxing? Chaotic? Nurturing? Noisy? If the screens are creating anything less than a safe haven, a supportive space in which to connect and relax, you have your answer. Perhaps, instead of asking how we can create ways to integrate technology into our homes and children’s lives, we should instead be asking how we can cultivate homes and other environments that consider and respond to real, basic human needs. When the screen-centered life becomes so much more compelling than the good feeling in our home and our family’s presence, we have lost our bearings and left our children adrift.
So, what would a person-centered home look and feel like? It is a sign of the times that we even need to ask this question. A people-centered home puts relationships and the real needs of family members first. It means creating structures and rhythms where basic needs like hunger, sleep, stillness and connection are tended to daily.
How we tend to our children’s needs while creating the environments they live in is what they internalize and what they will recreate for themselves down the road. In a nutshell, how we care for them when they are young is how they will care for themselves for the rest of their lives. No screen will ever do this for them. Ever. This can only happen in the context of a relationship with a caring adult. As a matter of fact, screens block the possibility of people-centered living as the lure of their bells and whistles trump the subtleties of human interactions. This has a tremendous cost for our children and our relationships with them, for the loss of interaction keeps you from knowing how they are really doing and what they really need.
The items that you spend your money on and the prominence you give them in your home tells your children everything about what you value most. In addition, how you set up the spaces in your home influences the essential human activities of eating, gathering, sleeping, creating, resting, and contemplation. What technologies do you have in your home? Where and how are they positioned? Do you need so many? Home is an external place and an internal experience. How you set up your home up and what is in it will set the tone for your child’s internal experiences — the development of social skills and self-esteem, how they regulate themselves, what values they cherish and so much more. Forget about right and wrong or good and bad, and aim instead to create a home that reflects their true needs and your values. Give your children an internal experience that they can “come home to” for the rest of their lives.
Removing Technology From The Table
The kitchen is the hub, the hearth of your home. There is a reason why at any gathering, no matter how crowded, this is where people gather. This space feeds us physically and metaphorically. Be very protective and conscientious about screen life interfering with your family’s ability to gather and be nourished in this space. When our surroundings are noisy, chaotic, or stressful, digestion shuts down. If your children are distracted or viewing disturbing images while they are eating, their body’s ability to digest and assimilate nutrients will be impaired, compromising their overall health. Additionally, when we are distracted we are less likely to notice the signals our bodies are sending about fullness and whether or not the food is agreeing with us.
Allowing your child to zone out in front of a screen while they are eating is a very destructive and difficult habit to break. Given the obesity epidemic in this country, this is a habit we cannot afford to encourage. Screens may quiet them, keeping them docile, but they are learning to be disconnected from the needs of their bodies. This learned disconnection leaves them victim to all kinds of disconnected experience down the road, such as premature sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, peer pressure.
In order for your child to know what they need or what they are feeling, what is working and what is not working for them, they must be in their body. Therefore, learning how to meet their hunger needs while being present in their bodies is essential. To train them to distraction when they are satisfying their hunger encourages them to ignore their bodies. This is a no-brainer: no technology at the table.
Removing technology from the table allows your child to be more connected to their bodies, and more connected to you. Table talk is how young children learn about so many things — language, social skills, customs of the family. As they get older and are moving more and more into the world, it is their time to try out how their ideas and experiences line up with what we have given them. The dinner table is a safe and sacred place for them to learn and practice who they are as a person and how to get along with others. It is our time to witness who they are becoming. And it is everyone’s time to practice the art of listening, compromise, growth and forgiveness in the presence of others.
Do not miss this time with your children. You will hear about what is on their minds and in their hearts. You will build a relationship with them that stands at the very center of your home life. This is not to be missed.
Screens In The Bedroom?
Sleep is an absolute biological need. It has been described as the “royal cradle of growth.” Adequate amounts of sleep are non-negotiable if you want an even-tempered, healthy, learning-ready kid. This is a difficult concept for many parents to grasp and implement with their children, given that they are unable to do this for themselves. Too many of us have fallen prey to out of control schedules and chronic, screen-induced sleep deprivation. However, it is incumbent upon us to be the guardian of our children’s sleep.
It is well documented that sleep deprivation results in lower grades, an increase in accidents, poor health, weight gain, and an increase in depression. If your child is consistently sleep deprived, you are signing them up for weight gain, inflammation, lowered immune functioning, and reduced capacity to learn. You are setting them up to be on an emotional roller coaster, meaning all of their relationships — including the one with you — become more difficult. If they are chronically exhausted, they are more likely to become dependent on energy and other caffeinated drinks, sugar, and refined foods, all of which the body craves when it is sleep deprived, and all of which will further deplete their health.
Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV’s, video games or Internet in children’s bedrooms? And that many experts recommend a 1-2 hour buffer between bedtime and screen-time to help kids fall asleep easier and sleep more deeply? Whatever your values concerning technology are, refusing to allow technology in the bedroom makes good sense for our children’s sleep, and therefore, overall health and well-being.
Recognizing that screens in the bedroom set the stage for staying up late is the first step. We all have had that experience of bypassing our body’s cry for sleep because we got lured into something on TV or on the Internet. If we as the grown-ups struggle with this, how can we expect our children to stand in the presence of this influence and not be swayed to ignore one of their most basic and important biological needs?
In addition to sleep disruption and deprivation, screens in your child’s bedroom also mean that you cannot possibly know what they are getting into, isolated as they are from your protective influence. It is too easy, as a parent, to be seduced by the peace and quiet you can get while they are engrossed by the screen. But the reality is, if your child has technology in the bedroom, you can count on them being exhausted and overexposed. To be frank, nothing good is happening late at night when your child is left unattended with a screen.
Creating Screen-Free Common Spaces
Are there spaces in your home that encourage gathering, stillness, and creativity, free from the demands of the devices? When screens are prominent, the pull is just too strong, and their presence serves to undermine reading, talking, relaxing, playing, and more. All of these activities and ways of being are absolutely essential to childhood. Consider creating and maintaining screen-free rooms and areas. Consider rearranging furniture to create spaces conducive to people-time versus screen-time. Maybe you can put a device in the cabinet, like my husband and I did soon after our daughter was born. Like the old saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” How can you diminish the presence of the screens in your home to facilitate more of what you truly value and what kids truly need?
Home life is our child’s first community and there is no underestimating the lifelong importance of this experience. This is where our children get their ideas about how to be in relationship and what to expect from their group affiliations. It is where kids form their habits about how to take care of themselves, how to spend their time, move through their days and therefore through the world. Given all of this and so much more, when we make our homes a sanctuary we offer our children a lifetime legacy of health and well-being.
If your home is currently overrun with screen life, don’t let yourself be fooled by the notion that this is as good as it gets or how you must live. If your children’s screen life is getting in the way of their home life, then what they are doing is not good for them as individuals or for your family as a whole. Period. When technology runs our homes we lose our children and we lose each other.
At its heart, this is about changing how you and your family are living. It is about making different choices, sometimes difficult ones. Every day. Large and small. Easy and difficult. There may be initial resistance. And there will be setbacks. But if you articulate your values, use your observational skills, and discern the truth about what kids really need, your home life will thrive.
Susan McNamara, M.A., CHHC, is a certified holistic health counselor who also holds a masters in counseling psychology. Susan teaches at Westfield State University where one of the topics she explores with students is the impact technology is having on their health and well-being. She also consults with families interested in making conscious choices regarding technology use in their homes. She can be reached at (413) 527-2230 or Thefarmatavalon@hotmail.com.