Kids, Parents & Tech, by Janell Burely Hofmann
Recently I was giving a talk about living in balance with technology to a group of parents and educators. The auditorium was full of equally eager and exhausted faces. I welcomed them and assured the group that showing up for a talk on a Wednesday night in the middle of spring to talk about tech parenting clearly showed they were doing all right by their families already. I sensed their disbelief. In a culture where imperfect parenting is unacceptable instead of entirely normal, we question ourselves at every turn. In doing so, we stop listening – to ourselves, to what we know instinctively, to what feels right for our family.
Over the course of the evening, I encouraged conversations with our kids – assess them first, worry second. I preached that we each know our own families – our wants, needs, goals – and parent from there. I offered practical tools and strategies and stories of success and mistakes from my own life raising five children. I offered pieces of the cultural conversation, how the technology impacts the modern family and how we can navigate it without fear, but with engagement. I felt the resistance. A hand went up begging for statistics – proof for every topic. Another couldn’t stop worrying about online predators and privacy. A dad was furious that his son stared down at his phone during the entire family vacation. A mom overwhelmed that she couldn’t peel her daughter away from social networking sites without screaming and tears. Another mom, “By telling me I can do it, that it’s up to me to define what works for our family, you’re not making it any easier on me.” Indeed.
The truth is, that is the only solution. I do not have a recipe that can make any of us absolved from the labor and uncertainty of parenting. Think of the best parent you know – your own or otherwise – ask them if it was easy. Some pieces might have been comfortable or natural or in their favor, but I doubt they knew exactly when a curveball would be thrown and how to prepare for it. I doubt they knew just what to worry about and what to let go. I doubt they went with confidence through every decision never holding their breath. Instead, I imagine all of our collective parenting greats have found themselves undoubtedly unsure, but have rallied to rely on their own definition of boundaries, consequences, truth. Want a behavior to change? Want more or less of something? Need to change your mind or revaluate? Need support or a conversation? Go on and get it! This is the beautiful and sacred piece of parenting – we get to decide what works for us. And what works can shift and evolve or not. When we commit to lead our families – even with the acceptance of imperfection – we already know the way. J.B.H.