Is it really August? How can this be? As you read this, somehow the summer is technically over. “Fall,” as we call it in Arizona, starts so early, and it is never too late to refresh our thoughts on what our kids need and want from us as we head into a new school year.
I always feel like an amazingly awesome parent as I check off the school supply list. It’s a Christmas in July of sorts. I love that I get a clean slate to be organized.
Since leaving the public school setting after 24 years as a secondary school teacher, guidance counselor and administrator, I spend most of my waking life studying child development, technology, youth mental health and the intersection of the three. I travel nationally to thousands of zip codes and hear the same concerns over and over.
“My son is burning his brain out on video games. It’s like that’s all he cares about.”
“Instagram has swallowed my daughter. She is constantly taking 24 duck-faced selfies.”
“Why do streaks on Snapchat even exist? It is absurd.”
Those are the parents’ complaints.
The kids are saying something completely different.
If we get really quiet, if we put down our own laptops and phones and lift our eyes (we are the worst!), we can see and hear quite loudly the call for us. The call for authentic connection and community, the feeling of being seen, heard and loved, and the nonverbal cries for our arms and love in the way of physical touch and affection.
I regularly partner with clinical professionals in the areas of neuroscience and psychology, and they say the same. One of my colleagues, Travis Webb, LCSW, says: “The three basic needs we all have are to be seen, heard and loved. Smartphones meet these needs instantaneously, sort of like a handful of Skittles—comfy and yummy, but oh-so-short-lived.”
In this fast-paced world we are living in, your children—no matter their age—need these needs met in the ways we used to meet them: rough-and-tumble play, physical touch, movement of their bodies and time in the outdoors.
I am always amazed when I ask a group of seventh graders during an assembly who got a hug the night before and that day. Out of 500 students, 20 hands go up.
Here is our reality: This generation has never known life without the internet. They are the most inclusive and civically engaged students we have ever witnessed. They use technology for good and in meaningful and cause-associated ways.
In the next few weeks, step back, get clear, and see in front of you our future.
It’s on us to cultivate, not control. Mentor, not lecture. Model, not demand.
As a family, try these four easy steps to get there:
1. Device-free dinners
2. Device-free bedrooms (nothing good happens after 9 p.m.)
3. Eight-second hugs morning and night
4. Family exercise at least once a week
The goal? Fewer Skittles.