How does the development of our children and their relationships relate to raising our kids in a digital age?
This is part 2 – you can read part 1 here.
After attending Dr Neufeld’s talk I was left with a lot of thoughts and light bulbs going off in my head! I came away from the talk with questions such as, why do we have such high rates of suicide in New Zealand? Why is domestic violence such a problem? Does our modern way of life have a negative effect on how our kids are being raised?
My initial thought was, is it because as a country we have been higher adopters of peer orientation and the digital age? Is it because our culture and society has been heavily impacted by these things and therefore our core parenting values have slowly evolved to the point where our kids are not developing as nature intended? We have to remember that nature usually gets it right, and humans have developed the same way for thousands of years. And the last 50-70 years have been a time of huge growth and advancement which helps us in so many ways, but at what cost? We have so many more demands and distractions on us these days, it’s no wonder its having an effect. And at face value we think our kids are turning out fine, and I’m sure there a lot of kids that are. But is our definition of “fine” a bit skewed because of what we have grown up with? Mums did not used work and so were more present in the home, family time was much more prominent, kids revolved around their parents and extended families, and they had free play a lot of the time as there were no digital means of entertainment. And I’m not necessarily saying what we are doing now is wrong and that was right, but it does make me question what impact this has had in general on our society and our way of parenting.
My intention is not to criticise anyone’s parenting skills. We all do what we do, the best we can, with the knowledge we have been given. My question is, why are we not being given all the information? Is there critical knowledge we are now missing? It seems so simple looking back with hindsight – we are thrown into the deep end of parenting in a highly emotional and volatile state. We are educated about pregnancy, the birth, and at a very basic level the first few weeks. But WHY are we not taught about child development?
Why should we need to be educated you ask? Generations before us never were, they just “knew” how to parent. Women have been doing this for thousands of years and never needed it. Well I refer to my comments above – our society has changed so much in the last 50 years, that its possible some of that innate parenting knowledge is being lost, due to our modern lifestyle and the different demands we now have on us. The answer is they didn’t have the distractions that we now have in the modern world. They lived in villages and kids were raised by whole families – it takes a village! The knowledge was passed down through generations and I guess they innately knew what they had to do because they experienced it first hand.
I’m definitely not saying that our mother’s did not pass down the knowledge to us, or that there’s been a conscious shift in how we do things. What I am starting to ponder is that because of the gradual shift that has been happening in how we live over the last 100 or so years (think industrial age, people moving to where jobs were instead of living where family was, automobiles, telephones, and now this digital age), the knowledge passed down has been gradually changing. As we’ve gravitated towards our peers instead of our families, as women have begun working more, and the stresses of everyday life has changed and increased, there’s been a warping of what is normal. So the knowledge is still coming to us, we still have the maternal instinct, but something has been lost in translation and our acceptance of what is normal has gradually changed how we live and parent our kids.
What I’ve learned over the past year would have been invaluable when I first had kids. Not only for the sake of my children, but for the sake of myself as a mother and for my own mental health. And of course if everyone was educated there would still be issues, I’m not saying it’s going to magically fix all our problems, but I think in general as a society we could do much better – for ourselves and our kids. If we’re aware of how our kids’ brains develop, how their emotions develop, how much attachment and connection is critical to them growing into happy, grounded adults, and what things interfere with that, surely it would make us more confident, happy and grounded parents?
So how does this relate to all things digital?
Digital devices interfere with the natural development of our kids. They provide instant gratification, instant entertainment, and instant connection. They interfere with or replace the years of work we have to do to learn how to form strong, lifelong connections and relationships with others.
“The digitalisation of information has made it possible for us to stay connected when we’re apart, providing a quick fix to the most distressing human problem of facing separation. The need for a solution to the separation problem was made more urgent by the escalating peer orientation issue our children today are facing. However, digital contact and connection, the digital “quick fix” to the separation problem, undermines the development of the natural and lasting solution, which is relationships.” Dr Neufeld
The other key area where there is a developmental cost relates to fuelling fantasies, and a quick fix for boredom. We can now play out our fantasies in virtual reality, and these feel so real that it actually triggers our brain’s reward system, which gets in the way of real life experience. Dreams were supposed to be just dreams, and not trigger attachment. It also gives us a quick fix for boredom, which is inferring with true play. True play as children is how we learn to deal with boredom, and foster our imagination.
“The insidious danger of digital devices is that in providing quick solutions to our most pressing human problems, they also interfere with the natural development of the permanent solutions which are prerequisites for the unfolding of our full human potential”.
If we take the digital shortcut, we don’t learn how to develop meaningful relationships, patience, how to work at something for reward, or how to handle our emotions.
“The fewer the problems for digital devices to solve, the less of a problem digital devices will be”.
My take away from the evening for how to raise kids in this digital world was two-fold:
- Ensure we have a strong attachment/connection with our children. This will see them entering the real world with a strong connection to home, and a solid understanding of what healthy and meaningful relationships are like. And this will lessen the likelihood that our kids will have attachment and esteem issues as older children/adolescents, and therefore reduce the chances of them turning to their peers and digital means of connection and escape. By fostering the process for natural development, we can make digital devices less enticing as they won’t need them to solve their problems.
- And secondly, when they do start using digital devices, as they inevitably will, we need to use the strong relationship we have with our children to set boundaries and rules around usage. Its only through this relationship that they will respect the boundaries we provide, and we can have open and honest relationships and communication with our children.
My goal going forward is to strengthen the connection I have with my kids. I want to strengthen our connection by creating family rituals and rules, such as sit-down meals together, more family time, more time playing together as a family and doing what we can to bridge the separation when we are apart from them (Dr Neufeld told us that studies have shown a direct correlation between the mental health of adolescents and the number of sit down meals a family had in the 2 weeks prior).
The more our kids get from us as parents, the less they need it from elsewhere. And hopefully by laying this foundation it will decrease the potential issues that might arise as they get older, and it will help them to respect the boundaries we set for the eventual usage of digital devices. And we will be delaying this for as long as we can. Dr Neufeld tells us the key is timing – waiting until kids are developmentally ready to handle the side effects of being online and mature enough to handle it. It’s also important to wait until the situation is right – i.e. after times of fulfilment. He used a metaphor likening it to cookies – we wouldn’t (well let’s be honest, shouldn’t!) let our kids have cookies before tea, as it spoils their appetite and is not nutritious or filling. So we should wait until after they have been nourished by good food, before letting them have the cookie.
For now, I just want to be happy that my kids want and need us, and hope that they give us their hearts, so we can guide them to be the best versions of themselves they can be, and so I can protect them as they grow up in this digital age.