For so many days, I sit on the train and I think about the next big thing, how to save the world’s big problems, and what I am going to do in the next chapter of my life. That’s what life on the 649 is all about, right? As I sit in my seat today, I realize that before I go solving the problems of hunger or clean drinking water, before I find solutions for rural people who have just lost their local Walmart store and need new jobs, I should figure out what to do for a suburban family with parents who work and have children who spend their time on electronics rather than working to be the best they can be and helping around the house.
I know this question sounds a little bleak, or maybe it sounds like we are raising spoiled children, but I think that what I am experiencing at home is just a single view into what the society sees as a whole, and what the country sees across the board.
I am raising children who have it really good. They have so many cool things that I did not have growing up like color television with a million channels, on demand everything, cell phones and computers with access to the world’s data and communications worldwide available any time. The biggest problem that holds us back from reaching family and friends across the world is that they are in a different time zone and are probably sleeping! I know I sound l Ike my parents or grandparents, but I think we all have it really good, so much so that most of us complain about such minor things it is ridiculous.
So here is my problem statement. How do you learn the skill of putting first things first? How do you prioritize those things that are needed and are beneficial to yourself and others first, and play games or engage in social media second? How do you see the bigger picture of what needs to be done for the family instead of thinking only of yourself? When you have finished a task or have a moment of downtime, how do you check in with yourself first before checking in with your phone and seeing what others are doing?
All of the communication and entertainment today is amazing, and I completely appreciate it. Just look at our biggest companies: Google, Apple, Facebook. These companies are succeeding by getting you to focus out of your own head and though them to others. The population is eating it up, and we can’t get enough. Everyone on this train is glued to a little screen. In my car of approximately 150 people, there are only 3 people reading a newspaper.
Back to my problem statement. Maybe the phrase “Check yourself before you wreck yourself” is correct. My reflexive reaction is to take everything away. It is a brute force way to get the distractions out of the way, and yet when electronics come back it is like giving sugar to kids that are not allowed to have it and they freak with distortion. I can also give everything without restriction, so the children know that they can self-regulate and when ready, all of the electronic world will be there. Those are two completely opposite tactics, and they have their merits.
It seems logical that no one size fits all, and not every glove fits every hand. Each child has a different temperament, different sensibilities, and different desires. I like the model of rewarding kids after achieving desired goals or activies. So after homework is done, or after dinner and the kitchen is cleaned, or after your room is tidied, or after the college applications are turned in, then you can play, then you can watch videos, then you can video chat with your friends. There are situations where the rules need to bend, like when kids are studying together over video chat. That is a totally cool thing and I wish I had it when I was a kid, but in moderation and if not abused, I think it is okay.
This is, though, what we have been doing, and the rules are constantly changing, or being adjusted. And it requires constant attention, as situations change and kids need more time for video chatting while studying, or have to go to the library for group meetings, or some projects are so big they need to be broken down, or have a snow day. Still, this instills the practice of doing what you need to do first, and relaxing after. Putting first things first is a lifelong skill, and it is worth the effort to make it a habit — across the board, for parents and children.
So is that the answer? It’s one answer and I think the collective wisdom of this train car agrees, except for the 3 dinosaurs hiding behind their papers! 🙂