Be a Front-Stage Positive Digital Parent

Gloria DeGaetanoScreen Technology

front-stage positive digital parent

Dan Sullivan, CEO of Strategic Coach, uses the concepts of “front-stage” and “back-stage” to explain the need for boundaries between customer service (front-stage) and staff concerns (back-stage). Like a theatrical production, the back-stage activities are often, messy, chaotic, and seemingly endless. The performance, however, goes on seamlessly—(hopefully)—most of the time. For instance, the audience shouldn’t have a clue that one of the actors’ costumes ripped accidently, replaced at the last minute. Making the audience privy to all production details would make no sense. Because the back-stage is intentionally separate from the front-stage is precisely the reason the production works. In effect, the back-stage whirlwind keeps the front-stage focus possible.

With this analogy, I’m not suggesting we are “performers” for our children. Rather, it’s important parents see themselves as participants, fully engaged with, and present to, their children. And, of course, this can be really hard to do given all the device-distractions these days. We really do want to check our e-mail, text a friend, keep up with our Twitter stream, and post family photos and updates to our Facebook page. These are real-world activities.

Yet, when a buzzing i-phone disrupts a three year old’s story or a thirteen year-old’s complaints, we lose our kids’ attention and possibly their respect. A texting conversation preoccupies awareness, missing the disappointment in our son’s eyes when he approaches us, anxious to share something important to him. When will be the next chance for this potential connected moment? Later today? Sometime during the week? But later today there’s taking the kids to soccer practice and ballet lessons and the rest of the week is jam packed with appointments you can’t put off any longer.

How many times will children run up to parents enthusiastic, eyes aglow, exuberantly expectant to tell parents something important, only to walk away slowly, sadly with head down, defeated and discouraged finally realizing with a huge sigh that it’s futile to compete with the device?

And, if modern-day parents become unapproachable, will children grow to seek continual self-validation from their machines, cementing an emotional bond with Siri and foregoing the messier relationships with parents altogether? As Dr. Melissa Arca, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communication and Media put it on her blog: “All the connectedness in the world, doesn’t mean much to me if I’m disconnected to the ones I love.”

In a bonded, emotional loving relationship a phenomena exists called “limbic resonance.”

This is a special attunement, bringing emotional comfort and shared meaning. Parent and child limbic systems, or emotional centers, actually harmonize. Before long there is a relaxation response and both bodies and minds begin to regulate in accord with each other. As the emotional centers of both brains resonate, each person experiences a meaningful relatedness. A quality connection unlike any other

The writers of A General Theory of Love, one of the most important books on this subject, beautifully summarize the gifts of limbic resonance:

“Only through limbic resonance with another can [the child] begin to apprehend his inner world. The first few years of resonance prepare [the child’s brain] for a lifetime’s use. One of a parent’s most important jobs is to remain in tune with her child, because she will focus the eyes he turns toward the inner and outer worlds. He faithfully receives whatever deficiencies her own vision contains. A parent who is a poor resonator cannot impart clarity. Her inexactness smears his developing precision in reading the emotional world. If she does not or cannot teach him, in adulthood he will be unable to sense the inner states of others or himself. Deprived of the limbic compass that orients a person to his internal landscape, he will slip though his life without understanding it.”

Staying “in tune” is a front-stage parental mandate. In this World-of the-Gadget to accomplish more attunement with children, parents can intentionally work to put the digital devices at the back-stage. Yes, it’s work, but worthy, noble work, so fruitful for children’s optimal emotional development.

Parents continually share with me how they accomplish being a positive digital parent.

I am struck by their diligence and in awe of their determination. Perhaps some of their ideas will be helpful to you?

Bringing Your Parental Presence to the Front Stage

Place the phone face-down, as well as turn the ringer off when having a conversation with your child. That way you won’t see any alerts.

Intentionally create a barrier between you and your phone. For instance, a father, I know who is a busy executive in his own company makes it a rule for himself to re-charge his phone as soon as he comes home from work and spend the evenings with his children. When they are in bed, he checks to see who has called. He has three uninterrupted, treasured hours with his family. And his productivity also increases with this break from technology. He is re-charged, along with his phone and if he needs to address any company issues later in the evening, by being solely with his kids sans device, he has given himself enough energy to do that.

Consider your own natural rhythm for balancing time with work and with your child. Many of the mothers I coach are working moms who work at home. The way they have handled their need to be on the Internet or near their i-pad during the day is to find their unique “work rhythm.” One mom knows she is most productive in the morning. Her sitter comes at that time and during lunch she takes a break to enjoy her children and re-fuel (both her body and her spirit).

Another mother has made a ritual of “closes the lid” of her laptop to signify a screen time moratorium—no peeking! (We found that this one “little thing” of closing the lid on her laptop and i-pad made a world of difference. It became the signifier that she was now leaving the “back-stage stuff” and entering into her “front-stage” of parenting.) Being with her daughter, totally uninterrupted by technology, from 3PM onward until the child’s bedtime, became “like a nourishing cocoon” for them both. Her daughter’s behavior problems disappeared as if by magic. But really what happened—a four year-old had ample time to be with and bask in her mother’s focused presence.

A total day off from all technology is advocated by many families—usually a day set aside on the weekend for family fun sans gadgets. “Mini-Sabbaths” throughout the day can work well, too. Ten minutes of rapt attention with a cell phone in hand when the kids come home from school goes a long way to encouraging them to share their highs and lows of the day.

A “No-Texting Rule” at the dinner table is an appropriate parental boundary—even for seventeen year-olds. With this rule in place your kids know you mean business about the business of living together as a family—connected in love you naturally want to re-connect with each other throughout a busy day. They respect that.

Experiment with what works best for you and your unique needs. Whatever you choose to do and however you accomplish your goal of being more fully present with your children, these are indicators you are on the right track.

  • Are you more focused when your child talks with you?
  • Are you feeling less guilty about spending time with your child? Feeling less guilty when working?
  • Do you feel in your gut that you have made a real, quality connection with your child?
  • Are you more energized about the interactions you’re having with your family?
  • Do you see a diminishment of your child’s negative behaviors and attitudes?

And are there more precious moments when your child runs to you says, “Mommy look at this…?” or Daddy, I can’t wait to tell you…?”

Ah…then…yes! You’re definitely a front-stage parent.


Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.