Let me start by saying that I have always considered myself an open-minded person. As someone who creates music, writes, and works in the education field, that shouldn’t be a stretch.
For the past twelve years, I have worked at a preschool as an administrator (currently as Director of Communications). Educators and school administrators are, by nature, life-long students. We typically seek out (or should!) ongoing learning opportunities including workshops, lectures, and conferences. In the education field, however, we also embrace something called “teachable moments.” These are the lessons and learning that aren’t intentional or planned; sweet lemonade made from life’s daily lemons.
Both as a parent and as a school administrator, over the past month, I attended three parenting and educator seminars tackling the hot topics of managing children’s use of technology, how to make children be better listeners, and how to manage screen-time for children with ADHD. I was hoping to glean helpful information and techniques and to be handed some concrete and, to be completely honest, simple solutions. Nothing too challenging. I had done a significant amount of reading on these subjects and, of course, I keep an open mind.
All three workshops focused on grown-up behavior, MY behavior.
This should not have come as a great surprise. I am very familiar with the concept of modeling behavior and the fact that, young children, in particular, are watching and copying everything we adults do. Based on the reaction of the parents and educators also in attendance, I was not the only one caught off guard. “Me? I’m not the problem,” one parent said. “My daughter tunes me out with her phone.”
Speaker and clinical Psychologist, Patti Sayre, looked the mom in the eyes with a big smile and said, “You are the parent, right?” Take the phone away!”
At each of the lectures, as I listened to the speakers and then to the parent and educator audiences in the Q & A sessions that followed, something became clear. I didn’t expect to be or want to be looking at my own behavior and I wasn’t alone. I was forced to face the fact that I had come looking for quick-fixes and “how-to” magic solutions.
In each workshop, I felt uncomfortable, as if the speaker were addressing me personally, pointing out my flaws as a parent. I felt embarrassed and guilty to think of all the times my kids are talking to me and I’m on my laptop or phone instead of giving them my full attention. Regrettably, I found myself disconnecting from the speakers wanting to check my emails to not hear what they were saying. Each, in turn, was telling me that I need to be modeling the behavior I want from my own kids. Parents and educators all know this is how it works. But could I really do that at home? Be a better listener? Put down my phone for a whole evening? Why is that so difficult? This all felt confronting and sounded like hard work.
As a school administrator, I have been on the side of inviting staff to try new things and implement various necessary changes. These efforts have, at times, met resistance. Feeling that I, myself, would always be open to feedback and new input, I have felt impatient with this reaction. After sitting through these three workshops, however, I became aware that I definitely wasn’t as open to learning and hearing feedback as I had previously believed.
Parenting Coach, Shelly MacDonald, talked at length about engaging children to be a part of the solution. It didn’t take much thinking to arrive at the conclusion that this advice applies to anyone trying to enact meaningful change at any age. Engaging others to be a part of finding solutions could be a game-changer. That kind of work, however, requires a great deal of empathy and patience.
This was something of a teachable moment for me. An unexpected take-away. Yes, I had come to learn about how to better manage screen time and technology for young minds and also to learn skills to subdue my own children into compliant submission (let’s be real, that’s what I was hoping for). However, I came away with so much more. Alas, I am not the empathetic, open-minded person I want to be. There is real work to be done.
Dr. Edward Hallowell’s lecture (the final of the three lectures I attended this month) entitled “Growing Up in the Age of Distraction,” focused almost entirely on the need to establish more opportunities for human connection. While not at all opposed to technology, he adamantly advocated for more face-to-face time cautioning that social media and screen time was replacing much-needed human interaction and connection. The message was mostly; “Parents put down your phones and laptops! Talk to your children. Listen to them.”
Yes, finally I was able to hear. How does it feel when you are talking to someone and you know you don’t have their full attention? What does it feel like to have a person always telling you what to do?
Much to every parent’s relief, Hallowell did also offer the following “concrete” suggestions:
I’m happy, as a busy parent, to have the ease of the go-to list for reference and immediate solutions. However, as both a parent and a school administrator, I’m still working on the bigger shifts that need to happen.
As a human being, given current events and the quicksand of political vitriol we are stepping in each day, empathy and being more open-minded would be useful traits to develop and are, seemingly, in short supply.
Like all meaningful change, that will take real effort and time.