We all live in a fast-paced era of computers and electronics. Many families struggle with the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Is that your home?
“Jason? Dinner, son.” His dad called out from downstairs, while Jason continued gaming on his computer in his bedroom. A pile of homework lay untouched on his desk next to his bed.
“Jason! Come on, son. Don’t let your dinner get cold.” Jason could hear frustration in his dad’s voice. He called out, “Okay, Dad. In a minute. Just let me get to where I can pause this game.”
“No, son. Now! Put the game up and get down here.” Jason paused his game and started downstairs. “Geez, Dad. Don’t get your panties in a wad.”
This kind of hassle and disrespect on both sides can be eased with a few additional house rules. Computers, cell phones, smart phones all have great, unbelievable benefit to our lives. Research, information, and fun are all easier, faster, and more readily available. The question is, though, at what cost? When electronics interfere with, or take the place of, relationships, especially in your family, it’s time for a family meeting. Talk about the impact, the trade-off, the needs and feelings, and find a way to safeguard family and relationship while also benefitting from all of these electronics.
Currently, there is a Wait Until 8th movement that encourages parents to not get their younger children smart phones until at least they are in the 8th grade. Some phone services offer contract plans with GPS, texting and calling only to specified numbers, but no apps. A Colorado physician who instigated Parents Against Underage Smart Phones (known as PAUS) found that 13-15 million kids in the US are on devices without content restrictions. Parliament in the country of Ireland passes a law this year, The Internet Access for Minors Law, 2017, where parents can be fined when found that their children under age 14 are on internet enabled devises unsupervised.
A couple of suggestions for kid-friendly, family-friendly use of electronics. First, limit gaming to 1 hr/day for children and only after homework and other duties are completed. Second, have as many family meals together as you can, and have them without electronics. Finally, collect electronics from your children at bedtime, so they can enjoy more and longer quality sleep. Return them in the morning.
Consider these rules for electronics in your family and you will find both respect and relationships dramatically improving.
“Aww, Ma. Do I hafta? We just did all this stuff in school today,” 8-year old Adam complained. “Can we just skip homework tonight? I promise I’ll to all of it tomorrow night.” Mom raised her eyebrows, looking skeptical of Adam’s assurances.
This kind of parent-child exchange is typical of what is frustratingly referred to as “the homework wars.” Almost all families with school-aged children have some version of this. Doing homework becomes a nightly battle, a test of wills with your otherwise wonderful, loving youngster. It is a test of wills, an opportunity to set healthy boundaries with your child, and a pathway to successful academics.
In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I caution that children will always test the limits. This is not because they want to be free of them. It’s to be sure that they are there. What child says, “Oh boy. I have lots of homework tonight. I can’t wait to get started and practice what I’ve learned today in school.” Shall we say…not many.
In this test of wills, your child wants you to set the firm boundary. The answer to his question, “Do I hafta?” is a resounding “yes.” However, the wars ramp up when each side digs in for battle. Do you want to avoid the homework wars? Then don’t engage. Doing the homework is not an option. How your child does it is negotiable.
Have this discussion outside of homework time. Engage your child in a curious discovery of what works best for him. Decide on a designated homework spot, e.g., desk in his room, kitchen table. Talk about the time that works best for him, e.g., right after getting home from school, after dinner. For elementary school-aged students, sit beside your child and coach/tutor as needed, but without doing any of it for him. For middle school students, be in the proximity of where they are doing homework. Be available. Encourage with “how’s it going in there?” For high schoolers, encourage their good work habits. Where low or failing grades are the outcome, homework time becomes study time to bring the grades up.
When the process is well-defined, put it into place for a short period of time, a week or two, with reward or consequence in place for after the time frame is over. Revise as needed, but be firm with your limits. You can survive the homework wars by negotiating a peace treaty that involves your child successfully getting his homework finished.
“What? Oh, sure, honey. Yeah.” Her dad was peering intently at his computer screen, while 8 year old Alexa was rubbing her elbow. She didn’t think her daddy was listening, but he said he was. So, she went on.
“Why do they call it my funny bone? There’s nothing funny about knocking it on the door frame and getting all tingly.” She paused and peered at her father, as her dad’s focus continued glued to his screen.
“It hurts, Dad. I think I broke it.”
“Uh, huh.” Was the only response she got from her dad. Alexa sighed, rubbing her elbow, and concluded, “Oh, never mind.” She then walked away.
So, Alexa’s dad may have been hearing her, but he certainly was not listening. He was in his own world where Alexa didn’t exist or, at best, was an intrusion. No parent intentionally puts their child in that position of invisibility.
Hearing is a neurological phenomenon, where sound waves enter the ear, connect with the auditory nerve, convert to neurotransmission, and are sent to the brain for interpretation. It’s medically very elegant. One of God’s ways of alerting us to our surroundings. But in relationship, hearing another is only the tip of the iceberg.
In the ocean, we only see 10% of a floating iceberg. 90% is underwater. Similarly, hearing is only 10% of relationship. Listening is the other 90%. Listening generates interaction with your child.
If daddy had been interested and really wanted to hear Alexa, He would have done several things immediately after she came to him. He would have paused his computer program and turned the screen blank.
He would have turned from his desk and faced Alexa straight on at her eye level. If he was unsure of her comments, he would have asked for clarification. Seeing that she had physical pain, having bumped her elbow, he would have asked to examine the injury. Knowing by her words and actions that she had an emotional fever, he would have gathered Alexa into his arms for a hug and then used active listening to help her understand her feelings. As he saw Alexa’s emotional fever lessen, he might have turned to the funny bone comment and had a teachable moment with his daughter. Listening is much more than hearing. Are you listening to your spouse and children?