Seth made sure he and Katie bought toys that would encourage the kids to play outside. The kind of stuff he and his siblings played with in a neighbor’s yard (although he’s brokenhearted they don’t make those lawn darts anymore). But as soon as any of the kids has a moment of free time, they’re on the tablet, or on the phone, or playing some complicated game on the Xbox. “They don’t talk or even fight with each other,” Seth complains. “And as soon as they’re on a device, we cease to exist. They don’t hear us and they don’t acknowledge us.”
When children are small, their parents are their entire world, and vice versa. But as children get older, other interests appear and begin to create distance between them and their parents. That’s as old as time itself, but technology seems to have accelerated the process. Many kids spend more time connected to screens than to their families. Unfortunately, that can damage families and impair their children’s development into healthy adults who can sustain healthy relationships.
One way parents can help to address technology’s hold over their kids is to make a concerted effort to create both family time and dedicated time with each child. A big opportunity is one many people view as old-fashioned — insisting everyone eat dinner together at the table, with no technology present. Studies have shown that kids who eat meals like that become more successful and are far less likely to become involved in destructive behaviors. Why? Because when the family gathers around the table, they’re communicating with each other in ways that build connections.
Parents can also strengthen connections with individual children by sharing activities and hobbies. Cooking together is not only an opportunity to bond, but also provides skills that will help your children transition to independent lives and better health. Pursing hobbies like building RC cars or making crafts also creates opportunities for real conversations. Taking everyone to a park or a waterpark generates fun and memories. Silly activities like making a blanket fort together can build lasting connections.
Much as you might like to see technology disappear, that’s not going to happen, so you may want to shift your thinking to supporting you child’s use of technology. Help guide them as they explore what’s out there so they don’t encounter uncomfortable situations alone. Make sure they’re comfortable they can bring questions or tell you about situations without you becoming angry. If they have favorite games, learn how to play them. You might never win at Mario Kart, but they’ll love your willingness to challenge them.
If you’re scared that you’ve already lost those connections, it may make sense to have a conversation with a Care to Change counselor. We can discuss your concerns and offer strategies to help you rebuild relationships. Your kids are growing quickly, so don’t wait until it’s too late to reach out.