I’d love for boredom to make a comeback similar to the one the flip phone is making. This may seem naïve and irresponsible with everything we are trying to accomplish in a day and how fast we move to get these things accomplished. I acknowledge working, learning, parenting, self-care, and spending time with family and friends all feel like full-time endeavors. Our brains are constantly going and to slow them down to be in stillness and boredom is the antithesis of what society is telling us. We are creating a culture reliant on the outside noise; we are forgetting how to think for ourselves and most importantly we are forgetting how to be bored. This is greatly harming us and our children because with the loss of boredom we lose our individuality, creativity, and sense of adventure.
When we are swept away by our devices and the messages, images and games produced within the digital world, we are pulled from our unique thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Adults view this as an “escape from reality”, or time to turn off their brains and stop thinking about the events or feelings they experienced during the day. Young people don’t view it in this manner. Rather, it is all seamless and the physical and digital worlds they experience are all one ecosystem. There is no difference, it is all a part of their reality and if you have young people in your life whether they are your children or students it is an important to understand this. The digital world is not an escape, it is a reality that many do not know how to manage.
Generations Z and Alpha are growing up watching us use screens as we check our emails after work hours, catch up on the news or look into our friends’ lives on social media. We think we are harmlessly being efficient and catching up with the world around us, but they are watching and learning from us. Gens Z and Alpha only know a world reliant on devices. Their behaviors are centered around their screens and as a mom, I am often confused and frustrated with the amount of screen time my children absorb.
When I talk with my 14-year-old son about being on his phone, he doesn’t understand my concern, he doesn’t see how wasting hours playing a video game or tooling around on an app is preventing him from doing things in the physical world. I try to negotiate with him to get him off his phone by suggesting physical world experiences. I regularly offer time at the climbing gym when he finishes his homework. In doing this I believe we are both being set up for success. I see it as he loves the climbing gym and of course he will complete his homework in enough time to climb and I won’t have to nag him to do his homework all evening. A brilliant win/ win, right? Nope, rather he comes home and spends and an hour or two on his phone and leaves no time for climbing. I am left confused by his lack of interest in being in the physical world doing something he enjoys. What exists in the digital world that is more interesting and more simulating? The answer really is nothing. It is the perspective in which he views being on his phone and being on the wall at the climbing gym. It is all same. They live in one ecosystem. The physical and digital worlds work together to form what they know as life.
My son does not realize he is missing anything because there is no concept of time and no consequences in the digital world. He says if I tell him he has two hours to complete his homework, he views it as limitless time until I tell him it is too late to go to the gym. There are no boundaries in his world. When games never end and reel after reel pop up on his screen it is very easy for him to get lost in his device and difficult to set a limit. The phone, video games, computers, and all the digital technology we see as advancing our existence is our children’s existence. To us they are tools to aid us in our lives and we can choose to use them or not, power them down, or monitor their usage to create balance. I am learning it is not so simple for young people because of the marriage between the two worlds.
So, how do we help our children create balance? I am not claiming to have the answer or to have any real wisdom around this. I am constantly trying new things. I can tell you for certain what has not worked in my house. Begging and pleading to get off the screen, shutting down the internet, using a bribe (that would be the climbing gym) or trying to reason with him. Reasoning with him always ends with the statement, “let’s set you up for success.” The irony here is as a coach, I know the first step is to have my clients define what success looks like for them. I’ve been working under the assumption that my son’s definition of success is the same as mine. It most clearly is not. It is time for me to start asking him questions and to get curious about his version of success.
It's time to be in conversation and learn. I am ready to hear from my son on what success looks like, how being on a device lends to his success, what balanced use of digital media looks like, and what expectations around digital media need to be in place to support him. Establishing guardrails and expectations to support him rather than rules and pleading feels more in alignment with my parenting style. I know I lose confidence and question my parenting often when it comes to parenting in the digital world. I also know I am a great parent and try hard to meet my children where they are mentally, physically, and emotionally. I may not like that they live in a world consumed by digital media, but I am willing to meet them there to teach and guide them in the same way I do in the physical world.
I feel ready for the challenge. Knowing what doesn’t work is a great starting point. Now I can try other things with some level of confidence. I like the idea of sticking to the three Bs. They have worked for me while parenting in the physical world. Be balanced (use the screens for what they do best), be present (when you are on a device you are not present) and be mindful (notice what you are not doing because you are on a screen). Parenting in this ecosystem is new. We are going to make mistakes and not always feel confident. Teaching and modeling how to live in the physical and digital worlds based on the boundaries you set as a family will help your children learn how to use their devices responsibly and help them understand that the information and technology they have access to is powerful. This way they know choosing a flip phone over a smart phone or staring up at the clouds rather than into a screen is available to them. It lets them know they get to make decisions based on what is important to them. This is how their minds become open and available for stillness and boredom and allows them to show up in the world ready to create.