Saturday, February 16, 2019

Sending my two older children off to camp this past week presented me with many mixed emotions. I felt some sadness as I would not be seeing my children each day. I also was excited for them, hoping they would have an amazing summer experience. However, perhaps the strangest emotion I experienced was when my 14-year-old son handed me his phone to put away for the summer. Like many camps, my son’s sleepaway camp has a no-phone policy, which means that my son was required to leave his phone at home in the trusting hands of his father. I was relieved that my son’s summer camp experience would not be in competition with the latest gadget, game and even basketball free agency news.

This incident led me to reflect on the following question: Is the removal of a phone/device the only way to communicate with my child? Are children (and perhaps even parents) so attached to their devices, that the most successful intervention to improve communication with a child is the complete removal of a technological device? This seems to be almost an impossibility!

With all of the benefits of technology, one can’t deny that the internet and the use of technology continues to challenge the focus and attention of our youth. Throughout the course of the day, children and teenagers are using technology in the classroom. In most cases, the learning and educational benefits of these devices outweigh some of the challenges that schools face when deciding to bring these devices into the classroom. Technology is also becoming the main medium of communication between friends and peers. Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat have all become the “lifeblood” of our youth. The obsession of having to check social media multiple times a day is a clear deterrent from developing the skill of focused attention. While research about the plasticity of the brain is still ongoing, I think we can all agree that all kids (and maybe even adults) need built-in breaks from technology and devices.

The summer experience gives kids a glimpse into a world of focused attention. At any educational or recreational program, the summer experience is a built-in intervention to teach kids how to listen, focus and perhaps even reflect on the particular message of an educational program.

Over the course of the summer, I have the good fortune of being able to spend most Shabbatot/weekends in Camp Dina. Last Shabbos, I was discussing this very question with a few friends/colleagues: How do we get kids to become more focused and tuned in to the world around them? We all were excited that our kids would be in camp environments, where our children would have minimal exposure to technology. We also agreed that the summer (with some of our kids away) may be the best time for parents to work together on household rules that govern the use of technology in the home. Our returning children should come home from summer camp with some new rules or new strategies implemented by parents, which will lead to improved focus and more intimate conversations between parents and children.

Let’s review a few ideas (each one to be developed in a future column, so please stay tuned!):

1) Establishing limits and boundaries around the use of devices in the home.

2) Reinforcing ourselves as strong and active role models in our children’s day-to-day lives and activities.

3) Speaking/communicating directly to our children about “phone dilemmas” that arise in the home.

I look forward to developing each of these three points in future articles.

By Mark Staum

Mark Staum, LCSW, is a clinician at Community Medical and Dental Care in Monsey, New York. Over the past 15 years, Mark has provided effective strategies to parents on how to communicate effectively with children and adolescents around issues of conflict and life challenges. Mark also provides children with coping skills to manage conflict, anxiety, school difficulties and familial challenges. For any questions on this article or to reach Mark directly, he can be reached at 201-952-4436 or [email protected]