Parenting Lessons From A Ten Year Old
"Oh Mom, that is so sad!" said ten-year-old Porter when he got in the car after our fun family night activity.
"What is so sad Porter?" I inquired.
"That little boy, only about three years old, in the car next to us didn't want to get in his car seat, so he started fighting his dad and yelling. Then the dad said, 'Here, have the phone.' As soon as the dad said that, the little boy got quiet. Dads shouldn't reward their children for bad behaviors and shouldn't give their children adult tools, like phones, to play with as toys Mom."
I was so impressed by my son's mature understanding of the situation. All the discussions about what the purpose of media devices are and the proper use of them as well as the understanding of the proper role of parents as teachers in the lives of children had paid off. He got it! He had developed wisdom beyond his years.
To round out the moment I had to ask, "Porter, what would you have done if you were the father?"
"Well Mom, I would teach my little boy to accept 'no' answers and I would correct him when he is out of control like that. I would teach him what calmness is and help him be ready to be calm in his car seat before I even put him there. And I would not give my phone to my child as a toy. The baby could become addicted."
Addictions In Children
Can children become addicted to screens? I hope there is no question in anyone's mind about this. Of course they can. I will never forget talking to a local business owner about how they managed their business with a new baby. The mother said, "Oh, it's so great! The baby loves TV. If I put him in his bouncy chair right here in front of the TV, and just bring him his bottle every couple of hours, he is usually good to go for about six hours."
This description of new-age child care made my heart sink. I couldn't believe the parent could be so naive about what children need and how addictions are formed.
Media is addictive — TV, movies, videos, computer games, social networks, texting and video games can all cause disruptions in healthy thinking as well as cause fixating behaviors.
I have met three-year-old children who can talk about nothing but games where they build little worlds with cubes. And I have met twelve year olds that think so much about their online games that they can't follow a line of logic in a regular conversation.
Why Do Parents Encourage Children To Do Gaming?
For years, parents have contacted me about the problems with their children and their home lives. So many times, the child is distant, defiant, depressed and angry due in part to their addictions. Pornography addiction and the addiction to masturbation are very often seen as the most common addictions amongst modern-day youth. I believe these addictions come from more common, gateway addictions like those to gaming, phone use, texting and social media.
In fact, I have noticed that about 80 percent of the pornography addiction cases I hear about start with a fixation on games like Mindcraft, a game that seems harmless and even educational to most people. The youth seem to crave increased stimulation as time goes on, much like a porn addict craves progressively harder porn as they become desensitized to its effects.
Some parents confess to me that they have allowed unlimited access to computer activities like gaming and programming, because computers offer a whole host of professional opportunities to their kids in the future. When it comes to cell phone use, parents say that they want their child to be able to stay in touch with friends and family so that they feel happy, connected and safe. While these are valid reasons, they need to be tempered with wisdom.
What to Do About Addictions?
Let's address the two reasons stated above about When a child is allowed to have unfettered access to computers for the purpose of unsupervised gaming, is that really preparing them for a future in technology, or is it teaching how to play in a high-tech fashion? If they want to pursue a future in computers, have them sign up for a class on programming, InDesign or Photoshop, thereby teaching them marketable skills for the future.
Also, before a person is ready for their career, they need to prepare in other ways besides activities related to their chosen career. Before a person is ready to be a computer programmer or game maker, they need to develop academically and spiritually. And, before those areas are developed, the child must develop morally and relationally.
The first thing children need for future success is an understanding of their roles in the family and of how to create lasting, healthy relationships and communications with family members. The family will prepare the child for further social success and over time the child will also strengthen spiritually and academically. The combination of these three elements — strong family relationships, social development, and spiritual/academic development — helps children gain a family vision and prepares them to begin deep training in their field of choice.
Education must happen in the correct order in order for the process to create a person who is well rounded and happy in all aspects of life. Putting the focus on technology before the child has learned to honor parents or to communicate effectively with family members is simply out of order, and could easily lead to frustrations and habits that lead to distracted, unfulfilled living.
What about keeping children safe with cell phones? Parents do need to keep in contact with their children, helping them stay safe and feel connected. Unfortunately, unlimited access to phones is having the opposite effect.
More than any other thing, cell phones are disconnecting family relationships. Parents as well as children are spending so much time looking at things and updating things on their phones that they are not connecting with each other sometimes for days at at time. Parents have confessed to me that they know they have iPad or phone addictions. They have mentioned how they have made spouses hide their devices during the day so that they won't be drawn to look at them. Self-government when using these devices is the only way to be free and safe from them.
I regularly hear men talk about how they don't do any social networks or technology stuff because it just isn't safe. They are self-governing. They know the pornography and gaming temptations are too great and have hurt their families in the past, so they just turn off the devices too. These are success stories, but there are for more stories that are not successful.
To give a child an addictive device and call it safe seems foolish to me. There is so much that is unsafe about that — unlimited access violent, provocative or dangerous content, an endless stream of mindnumbing games and social media channels, all while that child is not spending time with family members. Even when your children are at home, unlimited access to a phone makes it so they are not really home. Location is not the same as an investment in the people you are with.
Solutions To Media Needs
It is true that we rely on devices to keep track of our children these days. Even though I do think it is still a good skill to teach children to come home by a certain time and to tell parents exactly where they will be, I do see a need for cell phones sometimes.
Our family has a “kid phone.” This phone doesn't do anything special. It is an old slide phone that can't even send a picture with a text. No data is on the phone either. This phone belongs to Mom and Dad and we allow children to use it when they are driving somewhere or babysitting at a home that doesn't have a land line, etc. No one can call the phone theirs, and the parents are in charge of who gets to use it and when. This has been our solution. They know how to accept "no" answers and they accept "no" answers about having their own phones.
Our solution to the computer skills development issue is this. We teach our children that computers and electronics are adults tools, not toys, and we teach them to usethem in productive ways. As a result, my children use our computers to run aspects of our family businesses, maintain websites, make family scrapbooks, write papers and do genealogy. Because of this, my children respect the computers as a tool, not a toy.
We have not seen a need for game playing. This is not to say my children have never played a game before. I even bought a game once for my children to use when they visited grandma's house. Grandma has a game station and the children are given a bit of time to use it every so often, so of course I picked the game that would live at Grandma's house.
Over the years, we have also played a few typing games and foreign language games for some learning. However, these games were presented for occasional options during some down time on a Saturday afternoon or something.
Families need to deliberately decide what their attachment to media will be. What boundaries will the family have and why? How does the family want the children to view media and what level of an attachment is healthy for the child's current and future relationships?
Asking questions like these help families deliberately decide what media choices will put their families in bondage and what choices will help them maintain their freedom.
Media is not evil, but has definitely been proven to be addictive and to have negative consequences if not governed properly.
If parents don't set media boundaries for their families, their children will run the risk of become slaves to the media, with parents ptotentially suffering the same fate.
With proper self-government teaching and appropriate media boundaries, the family will be free and have lasting positive impact on those around them. And, like my ten-year-old son Porter, they will never see the world the same way again.
Learn how to teach children self-government here!