The Soul of Discipline

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The ‘Simplicity Parenting’ Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance

Excerpted from ‘The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm and Calm Guidance’ by Kim John Payne (Ballantine Books/Penguin Random House)

How a parent handles the influence of screens (television, computers, phones, and other devices) used to be a part of a general discussion about filtering the adult world from our kids’ lives. In recent years, however, it has become a major stand-alone concern, as alarm has spiked among parents and educators about how children of all ages cope with the tsunami of information and distraction that digital devices offer. It’s a sensitive issue for some, who feel that technology has significantly improved education and entertainment, as well as for those who do not want to question the status quo and believe that screen exposure is the new normal. It is clear to me, as a parenting advisor, that we have to approach this issue with consciousness and courage, and accept the fact that – as in many other areas of our kids’ lives (like when they are fighting or arguing over a favourite toy) – there will be times when we have to step in firmly and take careful control of our children’s screen consumption.

To be clear, I am not anti-screen, but I am passionately pro-human relationships and family connections. I am just as committed to the reality that childhood dev-elops in phases, and that each stage needs the right environment in order to flourish. Frankly, I would be relieved if the evidence supported screen use for kids as being ‘okay’.

As parents, it would make Katharine’s life and mine a whole lot easier to just go with the popular tide; get our kids some smart phones and tablets, and open the door to social networking.
However, both the balance of research and my plain old gut instinct tell me that something is seriously wrong with the way in which perhaps the most powerful tool that human-kind has ever known is being placed literally in the hands of children. The evidence is mounting that this twenty year unregulated mass social experiment is not going so well, especially for kids and families.

Strong family bonds take time to build and nurture. The increasing demands of a work life, with the invisible digital arm reaching right into our home life, means that our time with our kids has become more precious and limited than ever before. Therefore, it makes sense that we live every moment with our kids to its fullest, and not allow ourselves to be displaced by the allure of digital distractions.

During a morning break in a recent workshop in B.C., a couple with three children, ages 4 to 15, spoke about their experiences with screen media. But it was their bold decision to dramatically dial back their kids’ screen use that caught my attention. The mother was nuanced and insightful about the positive changes that cutting back had brought about in their family life. The dad put it bluntly: “The screens used to be in charge. Now Barbara and I are. It’s that simple.” They’d noticed that their kids got along better now.

However, the biggest change involved discipline. “To be honest, I only went along with this because Barbara was so determined that we try to limit computer, phone, and TV use, and I was so tired of everything becoming a fight with my kids,” the dad continued ….“they talked to me like characters in movies in which the kids take control. When we cut down on screen time, they stopped challenging us at every turn. It’s weird that we’ve all bought into the media so much, when doing so makes it harder to be a good parent.”

The family medium needs to be more important than the social media in a child’s life. Otherwise the danger is that it is the children who are bringing up children, and the teaching of family values is displaced by the passing fads of ‘what is cool’ on social media. Every parent wants to inculcate in his or her child good moral values: we want our children to be strong, kind, and considerate of others. These fundamental values are strengthened whenever we affirm the little kindnesses our children show, and every time we correct their disrespectful behaviour. These values need careful parental nurturing because they develop slowly and cannot compete with the fast paced, relentless, and manipulative marketing forces unleashed through screens. It is important that we parents understand that kids who are bombarded with screen values don’t reject a parent’s discipline and guidance but rather, simply deem it boring and irrelevant to their situation.

How bitterly ironic that, in this brave new world in which the screen is supreme, the very digital devices that we gift to our children serve to bankrupt our parental authority.

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