Step1 : Give them something interesting and meaningful to do. There really is no step 2, but helping them figure out for themselves just what is worthy of their time and attention is a really big step 1, often a massive struggle. The tablet, phone, or game console is an easy and profound distraction, providing the challenges and social gratification children crave. How does a parent compete?
I think the key to unlocking this awakening is to not look at the child as separate from the parent. It’s not so much what we can do for them, it’s about what we can do for us, which has a direct influence on them. I can’t make my son put down his iPad. But if he sees something more interesting to do he will put it down himself. He will see something more interesting to do when he sees me doing something more meaningful to myself than looking at my phone, or my work computer. It all starts with us. Being a good parent starts with me, leading by example. How can I tell him to cut back on his screen time if I look at one all day? I’m still dancing around the subject. The problem isn’t the tablet, it isn’t the screen time. The problem we have, the real meat of step 1, is more about motivation, which is the effect of (deep breath) inspiration. It’s not so much about how to get a child to put down an iPad. It’s about how do we as adults live a life inspiring to us, which will in turn inspire those around us to live a life inspiring to them.
I move toward the bow to fix a fouled jib sheet. My hand slides forward on a teak grab rail that I shaped, sanded and varnished. My shoulders feel the heat of the sun but my bare feet are comfy as they catch the cooler wind closer to the water. I squint from the glare and taste salt from holding sail ties in my mouth. Day spots dolphins and we watch, feeling closer to them than we would if we were on shore. He nudges the tiller and feels the response of a 6500 pound sailboat. His job is straightforward and important. Steer a steady course and don’t hit anything. It’s a big responsibility and he handles it well. Maybe the real trick of teaching a child is to do the opposite – to let them teach us, to look at the world through the eyes of our younger selves, to do them justice by having some respect for our own nature. How can we encourage others to follow their dreams if we don’t show them how by following our own?
After sailing this weekend my son and I came back to the house. We sat on the couch and played video games together. It flies in the face of everything I just wrote, but it was just another great part of a great day. I guess I’m still learning, which is encouraging. It means I’m on the right track.