Monday, June 18, 2018

Finding Balance in a Plugged-In World

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In the ongoing discussion of technology, its usage, and what is and isn’t appropriate for children, something that frequently comes up is balance. I shared a quote recently that I really liked by Zina Harrington that touched on just that:
"We have to stop pretending that we can 'unplug' our children. Technology is an integrated part of our kids' world--and it will continue to be throughout their lives. We need to change the conversation. Instead of restricting screen time, we need to teach our children balance in a world where technology is abundant. We must shift focus and introduce them to the concept of mindful usage." 
I want to first discuss just what balance means, because too often what someone means when they say balance is “someone doing things the way I think they should be doing them.” There are some things all humans ideally need to feel and function best: food to fuel our bodies; physical movement and exertion of some sort; sunlight and outdoors; access to intellectual pursuits and exploration; places that feel safe; enough sleep; time for leisure and relaxation, daydreaming and calm; human company and support and community… But the ways those needs are met, the limitations and opportunities dictated by each person’s body and mind and environment, and the quantities needed to satisfy each individual will vary wildly. Your balance isn’t my balance. Your balance isn’t necessarily your child’s balance.


So when I hear words like “mindful usage,” I’m cautious. I like the idea, if what it really means is helping a child figure out what’s right for them. I don’t like the idea if it’s just another euphemism for parents making their children do whatever they think is best for them, working on their children instead of with them.

What mindful usage can mean, to me, is adults working in partnership with children to help them decide how they want to engage with technology. This can happen by teaching important safety practices; by creating family/community cultures that embrace a range of different activities on and off screens; by prompting children to listen to what their bodies are telling them; by having open and honest discussions about the benefits and drawbacks of various activities; by modeling a thoughtful relationship with screens (talking about what you enjoy doing on “screens,” and also when and why you choose to take breaks or do something else)… And yes, it can definitely be the job of a parent to intervene when there is an actual, serious issue. But not to preemptively control, just in case your children might make “bad” decisions, or because you think their explorations are different than what you would choose yourself, to stop them in their tracks and never let them find their own rhythms.

I’m always cautious to point out that I’m not a parent: the ins and outs of how to parent respectfully, from the point of view of a parent, are better left to others. Instead, the perspective I try to speak from is that of someone raised with very few screen limitations, and someone who now seeks to place all of my writing in the context of children’s and youth rights: their rights to, within reason, make their own decisions about the way they spend their time, the things they choose to focus on, and the mediums they choose to use. I don’t think there’s only one answer, one way of doing things, but I also think that any answer that shuts children out of the decision making process when it comes to their own lives is a faulty one.

If balance is truly the aim, then that’s less of a static goal, and more of a constant query, a touchstone of daily life: how does this feel? Is anything off? If so, what needs to change? It’s a collaborative process, not something that must be imposed from above.

Children definitely don’t need to be “unplugged,” and instead technology can be an integral part of a well balanced life.

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