Most parents have likely had to battle with setting limits on their kids media habits (video games, TV, internet, etc), and spent a few conversations about the attention their kids give to media vs. the family.  However, a recent Boston Globe article, Dad, Can You Put Away the Laptop?suggests that kids are no longer the main perpetrators for being mesmerized by their digital addictions.  Are children now the ones complaining about their parents online behavior?

Before I say anything else I have to admit that when I read the Boston Globe article I felt a certain level of shame and conviction.  The picture on the front of the article could have been taken in our home at any number of nights over the past 2-3 years.  Whether its writing a sermon, doing follow-up, checking sports scores, online banking, research, looking for that last-minute travel deal, we all have our reasons and excuses for being glued to the laptop/PC.  But the ever-present array of reasons to be sucked away into the lure of digital resources, it often comes at the expense of what little quality time we already have with our families.

“You can’t get my mom off that phone,’’ said Lucas Finzi, 7, a Brookline second-grader. He and his brother have tried shaking their mother’s iPhone from her hands, and turning it off while in mid-correspondence, to no avail. “We’ll be at the dog park and she’ll just start texting someone,’’ said Miles, 10.”

“With the growing mobile connectivity has come increasing expectations from employers – and also from friends and family – that e-mails, texts, and tweets will be responded to immediately.  Toss in the siren call of ESPN’s ScoreCenter and it’s no wonder the kids are starting to push back, said Michael Rich, director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Center on Media and Child Health.”

As parents, we’re the ones that are supposed to be helping our kids set healthy boundaries in their family, leisure, education and relational lives.  Yet so many parents are living life on the edge and without boundaries themselves, and the family is the one that suffers.  There are certainly seasons where we have deadlines and higher volumes of workload that leak into our personal and family time, but those should be the exception, and not the norm.  With most households having dual income parents, families are already divided in the quality and quantity time they can spend together.  Add the constant barrage of digital, media and tech devices that promise to make our lives more connected, diverse and ‘simplified’, and you’ve got the blueprint for what I call “close proximity disconnection.”

Here’s an example of ‘close proximity disconnection’; I was at a friend’s house a while ago and although mom, dad and the 4 kids were all in the house at the same time (and generally within 200-400 sq. feet of each other), none of them were engaged with one another.  Yes they were all ‘together’ in the house (4 of them in the same living room…one upstairs in the study), yet all were individually pre-occupied with their own digital distraction (ipad/tablet, laptop, smartphone, ipod).  Even though all 5 family members were together in close proximity, they were void of any real connection (well make that 6 people…I was equally distracted with my Galaxy S…but not as much as everyone else…yeah…).

They’d have a few bites of food and then open their phones,’’ said Audrey, a fourth-grader at Sudbury Valley School in Framingham. “I told them they shouldn’t always be on their phones because we barely get to see each other. I only really see them in the morning, when we ‘re  when we’re rushing to get to school, and at dinner. I felt kind of ignored.’’

I suppose the positive spin I can take away from identifying my problem is that…well…I’ve identified it as a problem!  Like so many of us we get caught in the vicious cycle of identifying an issue, feeling the conviction of it, resolving to want to do something to fix it, and then back fade into our previously unnoticed routine.  I hope this time is different!

In order to truly change it’s comes down to boundaries and priorities.  You make time for the things that you think matter most and deserve/need your attention.  But unfortunately we fall into the pressures of project deadlines, expectations, schedules and before you know it those things take control of our available time.  The very things that truly matter most (relationship with God, families, spiritual lives/soul) end up being squeezed out by the things, that in the end, don’t have eternal of significant value (texting, additional info for a project, sports scores, internet surfing, games, podcasts, etc….).  If you (and I) can learn to set healthy boundaries and say yes to the right things, and no to the wrong (and right) things, then we stand a much better chance of maintaining healthy, productive and well-defined priorities.

You may find this short little article and quiz helpful to see if you’re spending too much time online, and steps you can implement to get out of the digital addiction funk!  I would also strongly suggest reading Dr’s. Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book Boundaries, as well as checking out some of their other resources, including Boundaries with Kids.  This goes well beyond just trying to manage your online and digital habits better at home, but will help you identify and walk through areas of your life that need visible and fortified boundaries (both for you, and others to clearly see).

My prayer for you, and myself and family, is that we can all learn to live and function in such a way that the people in our lives that are most important would know it…not simply because of the number of times we tell them, but because of the number of ways we live it and show them consistently.  Remember, we’re not only called to be salt and light to the world around us, but within our own families as well…so make sure your brightest light and best seasoning is brought home to share with the fam jam!

On a side-note, how would you react to the situation at the top of the post (quote where the kids would grab and shake the mom’s iphone in her hand, and even try to turn it off while she was still talking)?  Would you react in anger towards your kids, or towards yourself?  I thought it was a pretty funny scenario, although I guess it would depend on the situation!

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