By Randy Hain
Randy Hain is a business leader, consultant, national speaker, and award-winning author of several books, including Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men. He is the founder and president of Serviam Partners and the co-founder and senior editor of The Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine.
I took my family out to dinner one evening after my younger son’s lacrosse practice. As we were catching up on each other’s day and making plans for the coming weekend, I noticed a family had been seated at the table next to us. What struck me as odd was that the dad was on his phone answering an email, the mom was texting, and their teenage daughter was also texting—all at the same time!
The memory of that evening has stuck with me and I have since observed, with far greater interest, kids and parents focused on the little screens in front of them as they walk, eat, and ride in cars. I brought this topic up at a recent lunch with friends who shared that they were having significant challenges with how much their teens were texting and how they would rather communicate via this medium versus having a real conversation.
Is this progress or are we taking a giant leap backward in the development of our children? Have we thrown in the towel and allowed the wired world in which we live to raise our children for us? Are we contributing to the problem through the examples we are setting for our children?
I want to be clear that I am not anti-technology. It could be that I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the very tools and devices which were meant to make our lives easier and more efficient. I struggle with my own iPhone addiction and responding to the avalanche of emails I receive each day. We have a Wii, computers, and iPhones in our home, and we all watch TV. But we also have clear limits. We restrict our kids’ computer and TV time, their music choices, and the content they can view. It is a constant struggle for me and my wife to keep an eye on the potential negative influence of technology and media, but the alternative to being vigilant is the painful road to becoming a virtual family. We can’t allow that to happen.
How do we fight back? What can parents do? First of all, let’s acknowledge the obvious: our children are growing up with multiple and advanced forms of technology that didn’t exist when we were kids. Studies show a clear connection between the explosion of ADD / ADHD cases and the addictive nature of complex video and computer games. A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that minority youth (eight to eighteen-year-olds) devoted an average of seven and a half hours a day to entertainment media! Generation Y is also having problems with interpersonal communication. They struggle to relate to other human beings outside of texting and computers.
The responsibility to set the right example, create appropriate limits, and offer healthier alternatives for our families rests squarely on our shoulders. Unless we plan to move to a remote cabin in the woods, we are going to face the inevitability of our families being constantly exposed to all forms of media and technology at school, work, and home. That is reality. But we have the ability and obligation to enforce a degree of moderation and offer our families more suitable choices. I am simply suggesting that we replace what is harmful with what is beneficial.
Here are six possible steps we can take:
Put away the idols. Every minute devoted to TV, texting, computers, video games, and our smartphones is time not spent in prayer and serving our Creator. We often forget that we are in the world, but not of the world.
Respond to our vocations. As Catholics, we should know that our vocation as parents is to help our families (and everyone else) get to heaven. This won’t happen unless we put Christ first in our lives and certainly in our homes. If our children see us praying, joyfully attending Mass, going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and volunteering our time to help others, they are more likely to follow our example. This is the most important influence we can have over our children.
Read a book. Make time for reading and encourage our children to open a book, not a web page. If they only see us on our laptops or watching TV, they will likely model that behavior.
Talk to each other. Generation Y struggles with interpersonal communication, perhaps because of addiction to texting or more likely because we don’t reinforce this at home. We have to show genuine interest in our kid’s lives and not accept “fine” as the answer to every question.
Family dinner is sacred. This one is tough, but make a commitment to have dinner together— every night if possible. Even if it is a quick stop at Chick-fil-A on the way to football practice, meals (with devices turned off!) are the perfect time to catch up and stay involved in our children’s lives. Don’t forget to share your day as well. My kids are very curious about my work day and my sharing becomes a great teaching opportunity about life in the real world.
Don’t be a couch potato. It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon, your favorite movie is on, and you are looking forward to a little down time—and you hear the kids playing video games in the basement. Dads deserve a break (we really do!), but we need to get the kids outside for a bike ride, a hike, throwing the football, or a simple walk as often as possible.
I know what I am advocating is difficult, but most worthwhile endeavors are going to be challenging. Either we change our habits and positively influence the behavior of our children or we sink into the mindless comfort of our wired worlds and leave our children poorly prepared for the future.
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Randy Hain’s Journey to Heaven: A Roadmap for Catholic Men is an outstanding guide for today’s men. Providing sound wisdom and encouragement, Journey to Heaven outlines for men the steps to take in growing toward union with God.