Friday, March 21, 2014

Are Smartphones Making Us Stupid Parents?

I recently read this article that was forwarded to me by my husband, which had been sent to him by his dad. I'm posting the article in its entirety here:
Smartphones truly can do a lot, but can they make the user a bad parent?  Research is showing that smartphones may not be a smart choice for parents.  It is still unclear how much of an impact smartphone usage is having on children, but it is definitely making an impact.
Researchers from Boston Medical Center observed the interactions of 55 groups in 15 different fast food restaurants. The groups had to meet the criteria of at least one adult caregiver and a child who appeared to be under age 10. 40 of the 55 groups used their smartphone at some point during the meal. What the researchers found in their study was that smartphone use affects the way individuals parent.
Individuals who were engrossed in their smartphones responded less and more harshly than those who used their phone only for phone calls.  For example, one woman got angry after the young boy at her table lost his straw in his juice box.  She had not seen it happen because she was looking at her phone and claimed he pushed it in before taking his drink away.
Children responded differently while their parents appeared oblivious to them.  Some children accepted the lack of attention and ate quietly.  Other children engaged with children at their table or nearby.  One child repeatedly asked her caregiver questions, undeterred by her caregiver’s response, which was to nod without saying anything and without looking up from her phone. Other children tried a little harder to get their caregiver’s attention by displaying disruptive behaviors. They continued to engage in these behaviors until they received negative attention from their caregiver.
This research shows that being so engaged in a smartphone might not be  a smart choice for parents.  If parents are opting for smartphone usage over conversations with their child, it is possible that the child’s vocabulary will suffer.  Conversations are the biggest predictor of the child’s vocabulary.  The downfalls do not end with vocabulary.  Social and emotional skills may also be hindered.
Mealtimes provide an important opportunity to interact with children.  If parents are too busy interacting with their phones, then their interactions with their children will be limited.  The study is not suggesting to do away with one’s phone, but rather to use it responsibly.
This study is meant to be just a step in determining how smartphone usage affects parenting and children.  The researchers point out that the study is also trying to determine if smartphone usage is more distracting to a parent than other activities a parent may engage in while caring for their children.
There are certain events during the day where children benefit from parents engaging with them.  Mealtime and bed time are two in particular. These times when the parent is not typically working are important times to connect with one’s child rather than a mobile device.  During these times children get to experience conversation, which will increase their vocabulary as well as emotional skills.  It will also allow the child a chance to feel connected, and will teach them that paying attention to other people is important.
The key is for parents to make smart choices with their smartphones, and not be distracted by them all the time.  One simple way to do this; moderation.  Usingmobile devices in moderation is a good way to ensure that the parent is still interacting with their child at other times of the day.
This article made me think about how I act when I'm on my own phone or on the computer "trying to get something done." I feel like I'm a minor user when it comes to both devices, but I wonder if my kids would second my opinion?
How many times have I gone to a restaurant or a kids' park and seen examples of people engaging their phones while their kids/dates/loved ones sat by and looked around or the kids/dates/loved ones were also engaged on their own phones? I think it's a bizarre and more frequent phenomenon.
I also recently watched this video on Facebook that a friend posted about children of the 50s through the 80s and how we "miraculously" survived our childhoods even though we didn't wear helmets when we rode bikes and how we weren't fat even though we consumed loads of Kool-Aid because we were outside playing instead of sitting in front of a tablet or TV.
It also made me think about how we've been duped into thinking we're giving our kids healthy dinner options when we get "fruit" with that Happy Meal. I know a lot of women who hate to cook--we don't have to all love it--but I wonder how their kids are eating? It seems like a necessary evil to raise a healthy family--or you have to marry a man who loves it AND has the time.
I have been spending a lot of time lately wondering if I'm spending my time with my kids in the most productive way that I can. I spend a lot of time instructing--violin lessons and piano, as well as being their homework checker and spelling word/dictation administrator each morning. Not to mention the regulator of cleanliness and chores. Doing all of this for four children often leaves me drained and wanting to have time where I honestly just veg out or I seek out a few solitary minutes on the computer looking at Pinterest or Facebook to find some brief entertainment. Yet, growing up I never had anything like that to turn to for entertainment. I read A LOT of books because I was an only child and there were no other kids who even lived by me. I was constantly in an adult world. I think it was a huge reason behind wanting to have more children because I knew the solitary loneliness of being an only child.
Because I am spending so much time instructing it causes me to not want to engage in fun things with the kids. I feel tired. I want a break. Yet, I know those fun memories are so important. I need to help them develop their talents, but I want their childhoods to be filled with fun memories too which often come when I break from the pattern of established lessons and chores. It's such a tricky balance. Maybe all of this is part of why I have really loved celebrating holidays and birthdays for the kids. I try to keep the activities simple, but the kids really get a kick out of them. Green milk? That's crazy! Caramel apples? YUM! A piece of chocolate every day in December? Yipee!
I think the real truth of all of it is, my kids want me. I don't mean that in an egotistical way. I think every kid wants his own parents. You, me, the parents on the street--we are what our kids want. YOU are your kids' safety, their normal. I think my kids find comfort in our routine and because we have a routine, I think when we vary from it to do simple, fun things, they really value that time. The trick is, when we do vary from it--be present. Don't use a break from the routine in a wasteful way--let's go to dinner so I can be on my phone, but assuage my guilt by saying I'm doing something sweet for you. Let's go to the park, so I can spend the entire time checking email while you disappear.
All of these thoughts are not meant to judge anyone else. These are ideas that I've been turning around in my own head for a long time now. I certainly don't have it all figured out. I'm still struggling to make it all work and feel like each child is getting loved in the way he/she needs it. But I certainly can't improve if I don't examine myself.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Toughest Calling Yet

A few weeks ago I was released from my calling as the Relief Society Activity Such and Such. I can never remember the full title because it's very silly and much too long. Anyway, I was what they used to call the Enrichment leader before it became called the longest calling in our church.
My new calling is a Sunday School Teacher to the 14 year olds in our ward. I was excited about my new calling because it's a change and it means that I no longer have to plan a party for about 40 women every month. I loved my old calling. My organizational skills along with a super committee made it fun and rarely overwhelming. But, after planning the Relief Society Christmas dinner three times in a row, I was ready for a break.
This new calling is different. The old curriculum was lengthy and very literal. It said things like, "After telling the kids this story, you will now feel the Spirit." Okay, not really exactly like that...the new curriculum is about three sentences long. Okay, maybe not that short, but it's definitely short. Now, instead of being a teacher, I'm really Oprah Winfrey. I get to ask tough questions like, "How does that make you feel?" and challenge the kids when they give me answers like, "Say our prayers and go to church." So, I'm a little bit Oprah combined with an investigative journalist. I even get to make the kids feel really uncomfortable by saying nothing at all or commenting on the fact that I'm saying nothing at all, by saying, "What do you think?" Wait, wait, wait... "I'll just wait while you guys think about it."
I have discovered that even though they are teenagers, they still love stories. They remember them and reference them from previous weeks. The story lines are more complex and I only provide true life experiences, but I guess that in some ways we all still love a good story--no matter our age.
I have a really great class filled with smart, pretty respectful kids, so it's really not bad. It's fun to see their personalities revealed in their answers. When we had a discussion about reading scriptures once, one girl said, "Of course I read every day. We have a chart in seminary and I can't fall behind!" I could feel the guilt oozing out of her pores and saw my own to-do list, guilt driven self sitting right there. Her friend beside her said, "I know about that chart, but I'm behind. I'll catch up sometime." I saw someone who gets that she needs to get it done, but isn't going to be kept up at night with the guilt. Then, I heard some of the other kids say, "I don't read my scriptures at all." I wasn't quite sure how to keep the discussion friendly and yet not offer up some advice. I can't remember exactly what I said in the moment, but I think it was something along the lines of, "Well, we all have to start somewhere."
I really like the new format. I think that the youth are much too smart to be lectured to--not that all of us don't need a lecture from time to time. They have great ideas. They see things. They certainly can relate to each other if given the opportunity.
The trick for me is to figure out if they are feeling the Spirit while they are in my class. I hope so. As I expected from teenagers, they don't give me any feedback about my role. I hope they are coming prepared to feel the Spirit and I'm going to come prepared to try and listen to the Spirit, so we can all guide each other through this journey of learning.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Remodeling Ourselves

2014 sort of snuck up on me...along with every other holiday this year it seems. I love to plan things. To peruse Pinterest and pin ideas that inspire and motivate me--mostly you would think things containing chocolate, peanut butter and caramel are all that motivate me, but that's not entirely true.
I have disliked New Year's as a holiday for a long time. It's not the actual holiday itself that I hate, but the lack of excitement I think it contains. With Valentine's there are chocolates and decorating and cards. Christmas brings yummy flavors and Christ and such a warm spirit. Halloween--I love the Halloween season more and more the older I get. It's not the actual dressing up, but the season and flavors and change of temperatures and all of the fun activities I can do with the kids that we have all grown to associate with the month of October. But New Year's? It's a night to stay up much too late and after counting down from 10, absolutely nothing has changed. I don't know, it's very anti-climactic. It's how I remember my last day of high school. I expected to feel very different and instead I felt very much the same only now I had no strict schedule ruling my days.
This New Year's along with the last few have actually been a lot of fun. My husband's family all make different treats to share with each other and we would go outside and watch the fireworks that other people set off. It was low key and fun. For us, we talked with the kids a few days before hand about what their resolutions would be for the new year. I have to brag on all of them and say that each of them reached their goals for this last year. Ryanna's goal was to read at least 80 chapter books and she did--many more than that. Owen's was to read that many books, chapter or not, and he did. Eli's was to try at least 5 new foods and we would have a party to celebrate and eat each one of those foods at the party. Ever attend a party where the main dishes were: grapes, hot cereal, pineapple, blood oranges and German pancakes? It's quite an affair. My goal was to write in my journal every Sunday. I didn't do it every weekend like I had planned, but I would say I missed less than 10 times, so that feels decently successful. None of us can remember what Derek's resolution was, so I'm going to let him grapple with his own conscience about whether he changed in a positive way or not.
I usually spent several weeks thinking about what I want to change about myself for this New Year. Not that there aren't several things I could improve, but I really wanted to do something meaningful. So, this year, my resolution is not a change of myself, but a creation of memories. I have wanted to compile my maternal grandparents' life stories for many years now. This year I will do it. I have already recorded an hour of my grandpa's memories last week and I need to transcribe them now and put them together into what I want them to be. Next comes my grandma.
I love family history work. I love finding the names of people who are related to me. I don't know why it's so magical to me, but it is. This project is one that I hope my kids can treasure when they are older. These stories that my grandpa told me--they don't happen anymore. The world is so different. How many of us will grow up with more than 10 siblings? Tie up a neighbor man at his own prodding only to see him chew through the rope? Have our first pair of new overalls ripped off our three year old body and torn to shreds, but be completely grateful to be alive? Quit school in eighth grade to support a family only later to own a successful business? Life is different and each of us has a story to share. I'm determined this year to remodel myself by saving memories from the past of people who have helped shape me into who I am today.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Broken Violins and Practicing What we Preach

Last week Owen hopped into the van after kindergarten and asked with dread in his voice, "We have violin practice right?"
"Yes, we have to practice." I replied.
"Whhhhhhyyyyyy?" he continued to moan/complain/ask.
"Because you have a talent and that's what God expects us to do is practice things that we're good at." (This is one of my traditional answers to this question.)
"I wish I didn't have this talent. I hate the violin. I hate to practice. I wish my violin would just break."
And then it did.
He didn't mean to do it, but he opened his case and then lifted the whole case up to try and move another violin off the couch (those things are just lying around everywhere in our house!) and in his attempt, his case slipped out of his hands and fell on the floor and the violin fell out and the scroll was cracked right off the finger board.
If you've never seen a violin broken like this, it's pretty sad to see. It's especially sad when I took it to the violin store to find out that the repair cost is more than the cost of buying a whole new violin--which is what I had to do of course. This time though, I bought one with a two year warranty.
Derek said that honestly he was certain that in the course of Owen's violin journey he was certain we'd have a broken violin, so he was much more calm about it than I felt.

Violin with Owen is a very tricky experience. He has been so much more distracted than Ryanna. He rarely looks at the teacher and he assumes that he should play every song perfectly from the first time he attempts to make it come to life. However, I wonder how much of his experience is more frustrating because I'm a harder teacher on him than I was on Ryanna. With Ryanna I was learning everything for the first time just like she was. With Owen I know all of these songs and I can offer him critique on dynamics and correct hold and other things I didn't know with Ryanna. But, this instrument is a very frustrating instrument for anyone to learn.
It's very interesting how Ryanna, who is much more laid back than Owen--much less detail oriented than her brother, could have an easier time learning such a detail intense instrument. I don't mean easier in that she's been faster, because he's been much faster than she was, but he's had many more tears and fits than she ever had. It makes me see the parts of myself that I appreciate and dislike all at the same time.
Ryanna has been playing violin now for almost 7 years. That's a lot of time (and our money) dedicated to this instrument. She still doesn't love to practice, but I'm noticing difference in our approach as she progresses further and further. I can't play every piece with her. I can only play parts of all the songs she knows. She's also always learning supplemental pieces which I find very, very tricky and incredibly hard to follow. I find myself shying away from these hard songs and telling myself, "Well, I don't have the time to do it," and I really do slow her way down now if I try to learn the songs with her, but it makes me sad at the same time to think I can't play everything with her.
Even through this hard journey to get her here was filled with lots of frustration on both of our parts, we've finally reached the point where practicing with her for the last couple years has been something I find really fun. There in lies the difference between us: I hate those new, hard songs that really make my eyes cross and my mind cringe and she loves them. She loves the challenge of it all. It makes me feel a bit guilty and lazy all at the same time. I do realize though that I would have to practice by myself for an hour a day (at least!) to be able to try and keep up with her. I don't think I have that time right now, so I have to take what I can get in playing review pieces with her.
Practicing with Owen is a totally different experience. I have to constantly remind him to look at his instrument (neither of my kids like to do this for some reason). I have to be completely calm because I know that he is going to likely have a breakdown at least a couple times each lesson. I have to praise him like crazy for the good things he does--which I like to do anyway because I too am a personality who feeds off of praise, so I recognize the need in my son. I also have to issue threats and promise rewards with each lesson we go to. It's really a totally and completely different violin experience with this child.
So, it's about time we start Eli on and instrument and I feel myself pulling back and wondering what to do. I don't think I want to do violin again and I think Eli might benefit from having his own thing. I'm thinking doing the piano for him, but I haven't completely done anything about it yet. Of course the two violin players are ready to quit and plunge head first into piano lessons and I've told them they are definitely welcome to add lessons taught by Eli to their practice schedule.
I guess I'm wondering if I have it in ME to try to learn another instrument? As I told Owen, "When God gives you a talent He places expectations on you." So, do I admit to having a talent and then own up to trying to improve my talent? I always tell people I can only play what Ryanna can play, but not nearly as well as she can play it and that's completely true, but I probably play at an okay level, certainly nothing amazing. At what point do I say, "Not now." I get there are seasons in life and we have commitments that pull us in all different directions. But, there's a mom who takes lessons from my kids' teacher and I have to confess I wish that was me. Isn't that bizarre? I wish I was like her and felt I had the time to improve this skill. But at the same time I find myself being really glad it isn't me because I don't want to be pushed too much. This is a total surprise to everyone, but I think I'm a little bit controlling really. I don't have the time right now and I worry about what I would then feel the need to do with the skill anyway. Is it enough to learn to play just because you like to hear it in your own home and it feels a bit challenging--like a math problem--to read those notes and balance everything?
And, like Owen, I'm sure that going to lessons would be very challenging for me--I would expect to play it perfectly for the teacher and I never probably would be able to and then I'd be embarrassed and frustrated with myself. I wish I could figure out a way to let go and at the same time push hard. Something I'm fairly certain that I struggle with in every area of my life.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We Sing Opera!

Over Christmas, we traveled (a very, Very, VERY long drive) to Logan, Utah, to spend Christmas with family. We spent one afternoon playing different games in the church gym and as we were taking a break, Owen decided to ask his Aunt Kjirsti if they could sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" with opera voices. Owen discovered his talent for vibrato with his voice earlier this year. I think it traces back to listening to our violin lessons this year where Ryanna learned about vibrato.
Whatever the reason, several months ago when my grandparents were visiting, out of the blue, Owen stood up from dinner and said, "I'm going to sing 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' in opera." We all agreed to be the audience, not quite sure of what we'd be witnessing. He was actually pretty good. Since then, he has come to view himself as an opera singer. He even recently told me that I should get him an instructor to help him with his opera singing. I told him we'd better start off just being in a choir.
This recording is pretty quiet because I'm pretty far from him and it's only recorded on a phone. I think it's a really cute memory. Owen singing opera with his Aunt Kjirsti.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Family Pictures

We did it again. Family Pictures. I love getting the photos, but it's always hard to deal with the kids during the whole experience. Here's the results.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fall Break 2012

My kids have an abnormally long fall break since their school schedule is modified year round. That meant two weeks to fill with super fun activities. In years past, we've usually spent an extended weekend in San Diego--Sea World, Disneyland, the beach, etc. It's such a fun place. However, Derek just got handed a bunch of work on a new case, so we needed to stay in town. I racked my brain for some fun ideas. I wanted to do one activity every day during the week. Here's what we did (I didn't actually do an activity every day, but pretty close!):
We read The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base. It's a mystery novel that has everything explained in a sealed portion at the end. There is a story you read and then you go back through trying to put together clues that are revealed on every page. My kids really enjoyed this and I did too. I think my kids are actually more diligent than I am at trying to piece the mystery together. I was ready to cheat and look much sooner than they were.
The next day we sang some songs from a book about the Constitution of the United States. There were some pictures to go along with the songs, but we learned a little bit about George Washington and the flag and some other patriotic stuff. If I had really been a great mom, I would've had us do a red, white and blue craft and had a matching food spread to dine on, but we just sang songs. (Baby steps...)
The next day we went to Peter Piper Pizza. The kids had certificates for free tokens and free pizzas from the summer library program. I was expecting a dirty place with bored teenage workers. It was completely the opposite. The service was amazing, the store was clean and we had a lot of fun. I discovered that I really like to play the Let's Make a Deal videogame. I have a hard time giving in--I'm always hoping my case has a bazillion tickets!

Madi and Owen have been best friends and betrothed for many years now. 

The following day we went to the train park in Scottsdale with our friends the Russells. It is a really cool park with several play areas for the kids not to mention the train that you get to ride. Although there was one wild west structure that I'm certain is not up to code. The kids can play all over the roof and the ledge around the structure is only about a foot high. Being the good mom I am, I let my kids play on it. Following an exhausting train park visit, we went to The Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale. I had never been, but I loved it! Their portions of ice cream were HUGE and it was really yummy too. The kids had a blast.

The apples one week later. Ryanna's got mold, so we had to toss it, I graciously gave her mine. What a great mom!

We had an "apple day" where the kids and I peeled apples and carved faces in them to allow them to age into the wrinkly old witch type faces. That night we made caramel apples to eat.
One day we did a scooter ride through the neighborhood.
We also had a baking day where we made pumpkin and chocolate chip muffins.

We visited the huge Bass Pro Shop and fed the trout and explored the store. The kids loved seeing the huge mounted animals (Elk, deer, bear and small stuff like coyotes and snakes, etc). Caleb loved climbing on the ATV they had on display. Owen found some pop guns that made a great noise when you shot out the attached piece. We also rode the elevator which took us behind the huge fish tank and had a great time. When we left, Owen asked, "Mom, how much did that awesome place cost?" He was shocked that it was free!

Owen's in there...somewhere...

There's Eli in flight!

Owen REALLY wanted to ring that bell. 

We hit a new pumpkin patch called Vertuccio Farms with our friends the Kimballs. They had a train to ride, pumpkins to see, turkeys, ducks, pigs, cow, mules, the largest bouncy structure I've ever seen and one of those huge corn mazes that is a fun pattern from the sky. Ryanna and Quinn went to do the huge corn maze, but it was a bit too hot (90 something degrees), so they quit after a while. The boys did smaller mazes made out of hay bales. There were also strong man bell ringing things and bean bag tosses which my kids liked. And, little go cart things to ride. After we left we went to Bahama Bucks which the kids loved!
We had a park day where we got together with lots of friends from the ward.

He's making his mean face for the camera. 

What? Don't you carve without a shirt on?

My first attempt to carve a pattern on a pumpkin. Let's just say there were some complications.

It looked great for one full day!

Caleb's shirt was actually one we made when Eli was less than a month old. Amazing how fast the time goes.

And, lastly we carved a real pumpkin and we made our annual Halloween shirts--which the decals are falling right off!!! Except Ryanna's. Oh well, it's tradition!