Monthly Archives: June 2014

Parents: The Next Big Thing

Our kids came of age before the possibility of endless distraction– before tablets, smartphones, in-car dvd players, and baby car-seat iPad mounts. To say we are happy that we didn’t have these options would be an understatement. We’re glad that our kids had the chance to zone out in cars and planes, and they are good at it. They both were able to handle long trips without fuss, surviving many flights to Europe (where Anghelika’s family lived) with no personal video devices at all, often ignoring the cabin screens when they were young.

One notable exception comes to mind: Dave picked mom and kids up at the airport after a 10 hour plane trip, and our 5 year old son appeared in the terminal with wild and bloodshot eyes. This was in the beginning of individual screens on airplanes, and he’d watched Ice Age over and over again from take off to landing, about six times. When we got home, he fell asleep a couple feet inside the front door.

dinnertabledistraction

Today the sight of kids with tablets or phones in restaurants, shopping carts, back-seats, and … well, everywhere, is common. And there’s no doubt that we parents have entered a golden age of peaceful conversations, focused work, and generally satisfying adult time. Whether its grown up conversation over dinner, work productivity, or simply a moment of silence, parents do benefit from time without questions or fussing, and our devices do a good job of capturing our kids’ attention and giving us a little of that precious time.

Recently, Anghelika saw a dad shopping in the market with his daughter, who occupied herself with a tablet in the car-shaped shopping cart. He was having a pleasant, uninterrupted shopping excursion. But what kind of interruptions was he worried about? We’re going to assume that the tablet wasn’t there so that she could catch up on her favorite shows and this was the only time in her busy schedule for her to do so. No, our guess is that dad put the tablet in her hands because he wanted her distracted. So what was he avoiding?

We think that he missed an opportunity and gained little in its place. There is really no need for a parent to have silence in the supermarket, a distraction-free experience for savoring the details of shopping without the interruptions of their child. No, the only reason to distract your child in the supermarket is because you don’t want to face the prospect of endless questions, demands or tantrums. Fair enough. We’ve all witnessed horrible conflicts in the aisles of the grocery store, if not with our own kids, then with others’. And it’s painful.

But shopping is the perfect time to engage your child and distract them with a little real life. Grocery stores are very interesting! Share your observations on popular culture. Talk about ingredients. Ask your child for their opinion. Plan menus with them. And when they (inevitably) make their strident requests for the kind of foods that adults cringe at … make a deal: tell them they can have one food item of their choice and they can change their mind as many times as they like. You will only have to buy one ridiculous food item and they will feel empowered. You can also help them choose by looking at ingredients, though that might take the fun out of it. You get the idea.

We think technology is alright. No, we think it’s great, really. But wow, it sure seems like it is becoming a crutch for tired parents. Here’s our plea: don’t replace yourself with a piece of technology. You matter to your kids, stay engaged. Share your thoughts, even if they are tired and grumpy thoughts. Get them thinking with you during the day. We do so many mindless things that we take for granted, but are wonderful teaching moments for our children. Involve them. Engage them. Let yourself be the Next Big Thing in their life. There are plenty of times when you can’t pay close attention to your child, or when you have to turn your focus away from them. Don’t miss the opportunities you do have. We should be the ones pestering our children with questions, asking them for help with all the mundane questions we face a hundred times a day. And when they have tired of all our questions, that’s the perfect moment to let them have a little screen time!

Original image (cropped here) by Flickr user L-T-L. Used under license. Post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog.

New Experiences

Our son got plenty of warnings and reminders that we were going out to dinner last night, whether he needed them or not. We learned a long time ago that our son (now 17) was not comfortable with transitions, often throwing tantrums at the door when we needed to go. He doesn’t do that any more … but we are well-trained. What we learned, by necessity, was that it really helped to draw a map for him, sometimes quite literally, of what was coming, where we would be in a day, or a week, and how we would get there.

Some children can change direction and speed at the drop of a hat, eagerly trying something new, and following their parents with no problem. Others settle into a place and have a mental day-planner carefully laid out (even if the only thing on the schedule is “Keep reading this comic book until I don’t want to anymore”). But all children face new experiences daily and can be easily intimidated by things that adults take for granted.

During the months of May and June, young children are hearing lots about transitions and summer plans that may be exciting and fun for parents but have no meaning for them, because they have no context for new words or new experiences. “You’re graduating!” “Next year you get to go to big kids’ school!” “We’re going to Disneyland this summer!”

By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For parents, these all seem like good things, but children can be stressed by the sudden change in routine, the pressure of expectations, and the threat of the unknown. And actually, maybe they know more than we think they do. ‘Big kid’s school’ might sound scary until they learn that they are in fact going to be one of the ‘big kids’ and that’s why they are changing schools! And, while Disneyland might seem like a kid’s dream vacation, your child might only be thinking about the terrifying things in the forest that had to be faced before happily ever after (remember, Disney movies can be scary, so why would a child assume that Disney land is fun?). Sometimes we adults simply use new words without explanation (“graduation”, “celebration”, “vacation”, “camp”) and children generally don’t raise their hands to ask for a definition. We get to provide the definitions, and the map of what to expect. And we might have to do it more than once.

Parents can help children understand that they get to bring familiar things with them into new experiences. “There will be kids your age with you,” “you’ll bring your favorite lunch box,” “we will all be together,” “you can do this”. Dave is 48 and working on his second master’s degree, and he still gets stressed thinking about next year’s classes! Sure, he’s old enough to remind himself that when he gets there, he will have what he needs to face new challenges. But it can be very helpful to remind students (of any age), “You can do it! You have what you need to do well!”

Parents will want to remember that life can feel a lot like the forest in a Disney movie, full of mysteries and shadowy threats. We can make the journey much less stressful by helping children understand what to expect and by walking with them through new places, holding their hands and laying bread crumbs along the way. Sure there are times when our little heroes and heroines have to face things alone, but we adults are the ones who teach a child hope and trust by leading them gently into new experiences so that they learn that they can handle new things on their own.

[This post first appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog]