Connecting with our Children in the Digital Age

As-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatuallahi wa barakatu.

As parents we often lament about the loss of family values and the feeling that, while we spend our days exerting immense energy for the sake of our families, the return doesn’t seem to be stronger connections. Looked at another way, our children may play sports and learn about fascinating subjects in new, advanced ways, but they don’t seem happy or connected. It seems that even as the branches of our family trees have spread farther, our roots have become shallower.

There may be many causes to the fragility that has gradually materialized in our familial relationships, but very few people will disagree that the screen-filled world we now live in is a contributing factor. While we cannot ignore the wildly amazing benefits of technology (think of the grandparents we can now Facetime), social skills and deep, meaningful relationships have fallen victim to our technology-filled lifestyles. We have yet, as a society, developed routines that combat the losses inflicted by these new life-styles.

Consider that approximately 1400 years ago, our beloved Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) taught us that being greeted by our fellow Muslim is our right as a Muslim. That truth has a very different implication than it had just 10 or 20 years ago, irrefutably proving that Islamic teachings will always be relevant and powerful, regardless of the age during which they are practiced. A minor right, like being greeted, might have felt redundant and obvious to our parents. Now, we can see that, as people pass each other in silence failing to extend the most basic of greetings, such small actions impact the very foundation of society.

Today, the trust, respect, and love between friends and family are sometimes strained as we miss out on important face-to-face time. Because of that, we miss important cues and know less about each other. We are less sensitive to the emotions of other people because, often, our relationships are being filtered through a screen. The attached emoji often tells us exactly how bored, ecstatic, or sleepy the other person is, eliminating the need to interpret nuanced facial expressions or body language. Additionally, some children are growing up with screen-attached family members who are emotionally absent – at the playground, over the dinner table: wherever – distracted by their online lives. We see now, more than ever, feelings of abandonment and disconnection.

As always, when humanity goes down a path, it is never too late to go back or, at least, learn to look more closely at the pitfalls. Balance is important. Start by making family promises. Spend pre-determined time together without any screens (TV included!); Scrabble or Twister nights are fun! When your children are talking to you (even casually), try to avoid fidgeting with your phone. It sends them a message that they don’t have your full attention. Do physical activities that require the use of your hands and body: cooking or biking for example. Also, be a part of their online lives: start a Snapchat streak, invite them to an MCA event through Facebook, retweet their funny tweets.

Also, never let the small things go. Share with them the blessings and benefits of saying “as-salamu ‘alaykum”. Remind them that to smile is sadaqah and to look people in the eye. Teach them to see strain, exhaustion, and joy in the faces of others. By maintaining these connections with each other, we remember the burdens others are carrying and increase compassion for others. Most of all, we burst the bubbles that seem to encompass our individual lives.
In the challenging times we are facing, in the divided country we live in, in the technological age during which we exist, it becomes even more important to directly teach our youth how to make connections and value personal relationships.

As-salamu ‘alaykum.