Monday, January 11, 2010

Oprah and Ipods and Twitter and Email and How We Lose Our Way

This morning on the Oprah Show, a challenge was issued to a techno-savvy family to set aside their electronic distractions and focus more on each other. Not a new concept, but today it made me think.

What are the things that draw our attention away from the people we value most in life?
Why do we let this happen?
Is there anything we can about it all?

I am often amazed at how far technology has come. With a smart-phone and a laptop and an ipod in tow, I am able to be in contact at all times, keep up with all breaking news stories from anywhere in the world at all times, listen to music, watch favorite programs, take care of business and play electronic games at all times. There is great fun in that and in some ways, great necessity. The expectation is that anyone at all can reach me right now at any time of day or night. Stepping out of that is difficult... and the cost to me could be great. If I delay in responding to a request for a speaker, that engagement may be booked by someone else. We can lose opportunities and the worry of that keeps us checking, phoning, texting, twittering, on and on an on.

But, what's the flip side? What might it cost us personally to be so totally accessible and screen-glued day and night?

Mark and I have talked a lot about trends that have developed in families over the past 10 years. We have observed, as you have, families who go out to eat together while mom and dad check cell phones, teens listen to ipods and text their friends and children play hand-helds in worlds of their own. Seems like it all sneaks up on us... a little at a time.... until we look up one day and realize that we have not talked, really talked, to our family in months. We don't mean to get so caught up. But in our effort to stay connected to the fast moving world outside, our connections to those we love most dearly can easily fall away.

In our family, we are trying to choose a different path. I don't know if it will work but I know I want to try to keep a handle on techno-distractions so that we can stay connected to one another. Here are some boundaries that we have created to help us do just that:

1. Video games are for weekends and vacations (not school days) and are to be used in tandem. We want to build community in our home. Doing these things together can do just that.

2. Mark and I have cell phones and we have an extra phone available for use by a child who needs it. This is new to us this year and is mainly available to our 7th grader. It is NOT his phone but instead is a family phone that he is allowed, on occasion, to use.

3. Ipod use is encouraged in community. Make a play list and let us all learn to love the music you enjoy. We use speakers in our home to listen to our Ipod music together. Listening alone is great for walking the dog or a bit of down-time. It is not great for time together or for use at meals.

4. All screens are in public places. The accountability this creates is important. This is true for all computers and televisions. Screen time is limited and available after homework and chores are completed and time has been spent reading and practicing music.

It is our hope that these guidelines help us to keep the positive aspects of all these gadgets without compromising our connection to one another. While it is fun to keep culturally current, 10 years from now, I want to know that my children are close to one another, that they know how to have a verbal conversation, that they know their parents and that we know them. We want to look back and see that providing electronic devices for our children worked to help us meet the goals we set for our time together and did not, instead, detract from that.

It is all a tricky thing and something we are still working out in our own home. It is not perfect, not at all. I am still on the laptop too much and Mark has office tasks that must be done at home, after hours. But, knowing what we are working toward is helpful in reigning it all in. Because in the end, I only have today to listen to Noah's middle school worries. I only have today to think through a 5th grade science project with Benjamin. I only have this one day to see Josiah's eyes twinkle when he tells me, toothlessly, about recess in first grade. And, I only have today to watch Elizabeth pretend she is going to school on Saturdays and Sundays, backpack in tow. Tomorrow, all of this will fall away and knowing that I kept current with email and Twitter will not hold the importance that I am giving it now. Should I give it all up? Turn my back on technology like the Oprah Show talked about today? If I find a way to strike a balance... and teach that very thing to my kids... the benefit of all this stuff can enhance my life instead of drag me away. Seems like a lofty goal but one worth working for today.

What about you? What needs to be tweaked in your own home to meet the goals that matter most for your family today? What stands between you and your babies knowing one another well? Think about it some. There are choices to be made. Knowing what you want, what you value, what you desire to give your children will help you find the way. And when you are sitting together one night, laughing over a board game or shared inside joke, making that choice will be worth all the work and worry. This I know for sure.

Blessings on your day.

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