The Influence of the Internet on Your Quality Time

By Jennifer Battisti

The other day my 6-year-old daughter asked if we could buy a birthday present for baby Blake. I asked her, “Honey, who is baby Blake? Is it a friend at school’s younger sibling?” To which she replied, “No mommy, baby Blake, from the Shot of The Yeagers.” I felt the chilling sensation usually produced by a sci-fi movie. The Yeagers are a wholesome YouTube family I have allowed my kid to “subscribe” to. This evolution from television to prefabricated reality TV, felt, at first, inevitable. I monitored her usage and applied parental blocks. Even so, I began to notice a disturbing preoccupation with the pixelated parents and their five children who spend much of the show navigating box mazes and building living room ball pits. On more than one occasion, my daughter griped that our meager family of two never orchestrates carnival games in the kitchen.

While investigating the effects of my daughter’s technology trance, I also had to (gulp) get really honest about my own digital dependency. On any given day, how many times had I checked my social media, my insurmountable email? How automatic was my scrolling? What was being sacrificed from the time spent engaged in these activities? And the most difficult question I had to ask myself: had I been mindful about the influence the internet has on our family?

The solution, I think, is not to shield our children or ourselves from the use of technology. This sort of prohibition typically leads to a later infatuation with the “taboo” idea of whatever we were deprived of. The solution is balance and also conversations about what we value. If we let our children participate in the discussion about what we value, we might be surprised when they conclude that quality time together, board games, cooking meals, even stillness are activities that are important to their value system. The opposite of internet connection is old fashioned, “real life” connection and, I think, is also the antidote to the desire to check out of the present moment.

I monitored her usage and applied parental blocks. Even so, I began to notice a disturbing preoccupation with the pixelated parents…

When I asked myself what was beneath my incessant scrolling, following, downloading, it was usually one of two things—I was longing for something, a conversation with a friend, sunshine, affection, inclusion, or I was resisting something—boredom, sadness, loneliness. The goal is not to satisfy all of my cravings or avoid my feelings, the goal is just to know what I am made of, to be awake, and then I can meet myself with compassion. I can meet others with it. Sometimes that is enough to let go of the Googling, the checking, the posting, the striving. I can be an example for my daughter of what honoring feelings looks like.

I think at the center of our desire for social media belonging is the basic human need to be seen and/or heard by others. If our kids are receiving the flesh and blood variety of human connection, they will be less likely to be captivated by the synthetic variety, and then technology will be an additional way we communicate, not a replacement for it.

So when I asked my daughter what was important for our family, she said bike rides, yoga, and arts and crafts. Whoa, Fortnite did not make the list! We can check our phones later, really we can. We can be curious about our attachments, we can invite our kids to be curious about their attachments and we can talk about what we want to give our attention to. We may not be able to construct lava pits and slime wars in our living rooms, but we can create space for the moment-by-moment ordinary beauty of life with our children and ourselves, those moments for which no hashtag will ever measure up. Now this, I think, is the kind of idea worth subscribing to.