So, I caved! I gave my 12-year-old Ethiopian daughter a cell phone this year. As she was heading into middle school, I realized that she needed it to stay connected to us “in case of emergencies.” Well, as you can imagine, the phone has become an invisible lifeline between my sweet Grace and her friends. Lately, when she walks in the back door after school, she forgets to say hello to me or doesn’t hear me because she is texting.
It has only been three years since Grace came to live with our family via adoption from Ethiopia. Though still a student in the English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) classes, she texts like a pro and knows all of the abbreviations for things like ‘ttyl,’ ‘lol,’ etc. Recently, she had her phone taken away because we discovered 150 simultaneous texts to a friend.
Before we adopted, we were required to take classes on parenting adopted children. One main topic that came up repeatedly was maintaining a connecting between parents and the adopted child. We worked hard when Grace came home to ensure we talked to her and connected. However, we realized that giving her a phone to connect with us when she is not by our side also created a wedge between us when she is by our side. So we established a new rule that at home we all have to ‘disconnect to connect.’ Every single one of us in our family is guilty of connecting too much to our MacBooks, smart phones and iPads. Grace pointed out to me during a recent conversation where I said, “Grace, you don’t even acknowledge me when you come home from school. You are constantly texting,” that I was just as guilty. She replied, “Mommy, you are always on your laptop!” Gulp! I was caught. As a blogger, social media fan, podcasting host and amateur video editor, I do spend way too much time connected to the internet and the laptop. I am not proud to admit that I spend more time connecting to a thing rather than a person, especially my daughter.
As a Christian, we are taught to teach our children by example. I am afraid that I have not been modeling the best behavior in order to teach Grace that connecting with each other in person is much more valuable than a 140 character tweet.
It has made me contemplate how easy it is to rob our children of precious face-to-face time because we are determined to connect with someone across the planet via Facebook, pretending to be engaged in a meaningful relationship. Will my actions teach Grace how to mediate an argument between friends? Or will she watch as I ‘unfriend’ someone due to a perceived insult via a thread or status update? Will Grace witness true friendship as my friends gather for a party in celebration of a birth, anniversary or wedding? Or will she learn about virtual celebrations via Evite where she can click a ‘maybe’ when asked if she is attending the birthday party for her grandmother? Am I showing her what it means to be truly connected or am I encouraging faux relationships that are at best superficial? I ponder these things and have to remain intentional when remembering that as a parent, I am committed to teaching Grace by example what it means to be truly bonded to another individual.
For our kids, life moves by fast. It seems like yesterday when we decided to adopt Grace at the age of nine. I longed to hold her and teach her what it meant to connect to a mother while walking her through her grief from a premature and tragic disconnection from her birth mother, who died from AIDS. We have such a fleeting opportunity to fuse a connection that will provide her with a foundation to walk through life with the confidence and security that we will always be there for her.
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy, 11:18-19)
These days we are fixing the word of God on our hearts and minds, tying them as symbols on our hands and foreheads. Mainly, we are serious about teaching our children that they matter enough to have them fall asleep on our laps rather than our falling asleep cradling a computer. We have agreed to ‘disconnect to connect.’ We are enjoying real face time tonight and not forsaking our evening prayers, kisses on the cheeks and a face-to-face ‘I love you!’