Parents spend a portion of their day with technology, a few minutes here and there can add up to several hours very quickly. *Guilty as charged.*
Families are busier now than in years past; I’m almost grateful for the opportunity to bring up kids without all the technology cluttering our day. When I was a kid, my mother’s friend Gloria called her at least five times a day with each call almost half an hour long. That means Mom spent about 2 ½ hours on the phone with Gloria. She stayed busy in the kitchen cleaning and preparing foods but how much could she do when the other hand holding the phone to her ear?
Mom once told me, “I’m scared to death to answer the phone— afraid it will be Gloria. I don’t have time to waste on the phone with Gloria!”
I have often wondered if the stress of Gloria’s calls had affected Mom so that she in turn abused me. Mom felt she was powerless to stop the cycle and that could be very stressful. There was no such thing as Caller ID then and to top it off, you dare not be rude to friends or family and Gloria was both. Gloria also had a list of friends she called; I visited several times as a kid so I grew up seeing both sides of her calls.
Technology has increased over the years and many of us adapted: computer games, cell phones, laptops and social media for the short list. Many of us are becoming addicted and I wonder if we fear being left behind or even worse— disconnected.
While volunteering on the Helpline once I received a call from a woman who seemed to be stressed out and began by complaining about her husband’s lack of attention and continued by guessing that perhaps he was being unfaithful. For the duration of the call I heard a small child, maybe four-years-old, in the background begging for her mother’s attention.
“Mommy… mommy… mommy,” she said, “Mommy, can I have ‘ju-ju’ now?”
I imagined the little girl tapping her mom repeatedly with sticky fingers; apparently the child was asking for juice but the mom was so focused on her own concerns that she didn’t even acknowledge her. I asked her pointedly if she could quickly give her juice while we wrapped up the call.
“Isn’t she awful? She whines all day non-stop!” she said and returned to her own needs.
When we ended the call I continued to think about the little girl and how she might grow up. I returned to my computer game and waited for the next Helpline call. I usually worked but today I played Lode Runner, a game shared to me by Judy, a co-member in my Parents Anonymous group.
Hearing to the little girl repeatedly asking for her mother’s help made me think of my own two girls. There were times when I didn’t want to stop playing, I had gotten so far in the game and did not want to end my lucky streak. I think any of us can become so engrossed in something – books, studies, movies, games, iPods – that we are oblivious to what is going on around us.
Chelsey and Katie knew the perfect time to ask for permission for something… while I was playing Lode Runner!
“Mom, can we have ice cream and cookies?”
“Pretty please, can we watch the movie now?”
“Can I wait till tomorrow to do my chores?”
I’d tell Katie and Chelsey, “No! Not now – I’m about to get the gold nugget!”
There I’d be, a tiny little man running from monks all dressed in red. My job was to gather all the gold and avoid the monks to prevent a gory death. When I did stop playing Lode Runner my heart rate would be up and notice I had broken a sweat. Wow, I lived another day!Remembering this makes me and the kids laugh and I know many of you have been in the same position. Technology can be pretty intrusive like it was for my mother and Gloria and the little girl and her mom. What can you do to rein in telephones or cell phones?
Use Caller ID and an answering machine (or service) to avoid time-hogs altogether. If and when you choose return calls, decide ahead of time how much time you can afford to spend and set a timer. Explain briefly that you are trying to reclaim from technology for a hobby, class, rest, reading or other activity and tell them how much time you will have until the timer rings. (You also do not have to explain your use of time to anyone, especially someone who would spend your time foolishly without regard to your preferences.)
Set up a schedule with a block of time daily to return calls. As an example: In the morning between 7:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., then in late afternoon between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. You can choose and set the time frames that best fit your needs.
Prioritize calls with the most important calls first and least critical last. Organize information you wish to share and take notes. Notes will help clarify your objectives and keep important information foremost in the conversation. If you don’t get to every call then roll them over to the next day and prioritize again.
Games are an entirely different kind of animal. With the intruder under your very nose it can be a bit more troublesome. Are games and iPods evil? No, no more than I (or any parent) would be for playing Lode Runner— thanks, Judy! The key to self-control is SELF. Need a few tips?
Set a timer if you think you will be using the iPhone, laptop or game for more than five minutes. When checking e-mail, looking up an actor’s BIO or even playing a simple game you can lose track of time. Set the timer to a reasonable amount of time (you would not mind wasting) and stick to it. As soon as the bell rings, turn the gadget off or decide on more time. At least using the timer you will be more aware of the time you are spending.
With children it helps to get your rules out front and stick to time limits. Many parents prefer to turn off or take away technology around 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. since the lighted items can cause temporary sleeplessness.
With Katie and Chelsey I told them any question would get an automatic “no” if I was playing a game. But if they pressed me I would set a timer to answer any requests. I paused for genuinely urgent needs.
Remember, you are the parent and you set the rules. You can change the rules at any time. Do not fall for the child who wants you to follow the same rules they are required to obey. Fair and reasonable rules are usually easier to enforce. Re-evaluating rules for school and summer times are a good idea.
Children and their needs generally come first. Needs and wants are not the same. Technology is a privilege not a right. Show your children the difference in a way they can understand. Needs are food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, healthcare, etc. Privileges are iPhones, cell phones, games, etc.
My game playing is less fervent now and while I do enjoy games, I have other interests now like blogging. When I need a break I play a hand or two of Spider Solitaire and then it’s back to work.
There are other ideas as close as your nearest Parents Anonymous group. You can also check out the new and improved national website for groups near you! www.ParentsAnonymous.org
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her at her contact page.