One of the most annoying things about adopting new technology is the way that we quickly and unconsciously sink to the lowest common denominator of interpersonal norms.
Said another way, new technologies seem to bring out self-centeredness, thoughtlessness and rudeness in people (cell phone conversations in toilet stalls, anyone?), often without anyone really noticing, and almost always without anyone willing to put their foot down to change it.
We parents and role models have to take charge and consciously set our own expectations, or like the frog in the boiling water, it gets worse and worse until it’s too late.
It’s taken me some time to realize that I have to have rules about when my kids can text. We have some rules for tech use in the car– if it’s a ride with just me, no texting. Your job is to talk to your mom. If it’s a longer ride and both girls are in the back seat, headphones and texting are okay.
We’ve got the car part down.
Lately it’s been texting in the kitchen. My younger daughter seems to have permanently attached her smartphone to her left hand. She’ll try to text while she’s feeding the dog, emptying the dishwasher, and even eating at the kitchen table.
For too long, my response was to comment on it every time I noticed it. Time after individual time, I’d tell her to put the phone away… until it dawned on me– I needed a rule.
Okay, call it a principle, but we needed a blanket guideline for this situation, one that could be applied every. single. day. to. everyone.
Now our rule is: No phones during dinner hour.
(Dinner hour is the prep, eating, and cleaning up of dinner. This is also the time when I make the girls finish their random chores like putting laundry away. Somehow, having it confined into one hour when any family responsibility is fair game takes the onus of nagging off me.)
When it’s your own kids, the un-social tech behavior creeps up on you. The 12 year old taking too many selfies becomes the 13 year old who hides her phone under her covers at bedtime and texts until 1 am. But if you haven’t noticed and set expectations when the kid was 11, you can look arbitrary when you try to change expectations at 14.
Au pairs give us a chance to notice technology habits before they get ingrained in the family fabric.
Au pairs are older than our own kids, so they actually have technology habits that they bring along with them, fully-formed. And noticeable.
When an au pair joins your family and brings with him/her the technology habits of his/her own group of friends back home, this is your big chance:
- to notice what tech-related behaviors you like/don’t like,
- to decide what you want for your family
- to establish some norms and expectations, and
- to coach everyone in the family — au pairs, spouses, partners, and even friends– into a better, more social, more relationship-respecting set of habits.
Host Mom SKNY writes in a panic about her new au pair:
Tonight she spent dinner on her phone chatting with people at home. The craziest thing is that she did it as a teenager would: hiding cell phone on her lap, and texting looking down …. Is it rude to ask her PLEASE not to text on table? AND to ask her to not even bring cell phone upstairs during work hours???
Host Mom SKNY, this is your big chance!
With every new au pair, you get the chance to re-set your expectations for how your au pair should interact with you and how your family should interact with each other. This particular situation points out for you that it’s not ONLY the au pair’s behavior that needs to change, but also that you have to establish some clear principles for what you want as your family’s habits.
Au pairs expect to adjust to our ‘American culture’ as it is practiced in our individual homes.
If you have realized that your family’s culture should include interpersonal interaction at dinner (aka conversation), and that it should include texting only when you’re having personal time, now it the moment to set that expectation.
And it goes without saying, the adults and the children in the family should follow the same courtesies.
What have you done to establish norms around technology, so that you can have the kind of interpersonal family culture that matters to you?