I recently read an Op-Ed on using technology as a bargaining chip with your child. Confiscating phones from your teenager for late curfew, bad grades, or catching them doing something they weren’t supposed to do. Similarly, the article states it shouldn’t be used as a positive reinforcement tool either. For example, when your two year old is successful in their potty training, the reward should not involve screen time. The interesting read suggested the parent is giving the child the wrong message about tech use. It was rather altruistic in that it said we need to be showing our children how to positively interact with tablets and cell phones. I understand what this opinion piece is suggesting to the reader, and while I agree with some of it, I strongly disagree with much of it. But remember, I am a parent who allows their children zero screen time in the home. Ever. I didn’t decide to use technology as a bargaining chip with my child, I took it away completely in one fell swoop. Cold turkey. No more. I had to.
This notion that if I don’t allow my kids screen time now, they will rebel, revolt and go hog wild with a device, once they finally have it, is bogus to me. Am I supposed to liken it to the college student who turns into a wild drinker because mom and dad forbid a taste of beer in high school? What exactly is my child going to do as a result of technology restrictions? Turn into a social media fanatic? A pornography addict? A cyberbully at age 25? I’m sorry, last time I checked, the children that DO have technology use are accomplishing all of these things just fine. Additionally, adults who never had technology until they were older have definitely fallen prey to cyber relationships, pornography addiction, and social media saturated lives posting picture after picture of their perfect children and marriage.
This next statement is the one that’s going to gain me the most backlash and it’s ok, I’m up for the criticism although unsubstantiated, as I have always been forthcoming and honest about our family’s cyber shortcomings. I internally come unglued when I hear parents of teenagers say to me, “Once you give it to them, it’s impossible to take it away.” Really??? The myriad of responses to my asking WHY are confounding. I hear……. “It’s easy for you because you have little children. Wait until your children’s entire social network revolves around that device. I’m afraid my child will miss out or be left out and I don’t want to see their feelings hurt. I want to track my child to see where they are because I don’t trust them.” I’d like to address each of these individually.
· There is NOTHING any easier about taking technology away from a 7 year old vs. a 17 year old. What I witnessed with my son was a vile, toxic, painful addiction to a device. The withdrawal I had to endure for days was trying, to say the least and the incredible resilience I had to dig deep for took everything within me. The only difference between me and the teenage parent is once I saw the hold it had on my child, I said NO MORE. As long as I am a parent, my house, my rules, it is my job to say NO MORE. Especially, when I see danger ensuing. And parents of 17 year olds….you DO see the danger ensuing. It’s a different danger at this point for you, but you see it. Here’s where we address the second and third response.
· You see the lack of good communication skills, or the absence of them as they text, Snapchat and “Insta.” You see the hurt they feel when they find out, through social media, that they weren’t included. You see the horrific statements other children are making about your child or your child is making horrific statements on social media. You know your child has internet searched something that has, quite frankly, given them a manual far beyond the good old days of our generation looking up “&itch”, or “%hit” in the Webster dictionary. Yet, everyone else has the phones and my kid must have it, too. We have taught our children that we must roll along with cultural norms so we don’t get left behind. Rather, teach our children to be different, go against the grain, question go with the flow, be leaders and do things differently and watch everyone else follow YOUR trend. This FOMO world we are living in is beyond comprehension to me.
· The tracking. I get it. Times are different in many ways. We’ve never seen such school violence, global terrorism, teen suicide. But are times really that different? Didn’t generations before now push the boundaries? Did the Baby Boomers try alcohol in high school? Did they try marijuana in the 70’s? Did they come home after curfew? Did they do donuts in a vehicle with a car full of friends in a parking lot on a snowy night? You darn right they did. The tracking is an interesting concept to me. It makes sense right? If you can SEE your child in an area they shouldn’t be in, or catch them in a lie, I suppose you can jump in your car and get to their location to do what exactly? Save them from being car jacked? Humiliate them when you arrive in front of their friends? Is it simple peace of mind knowing where your children are at all times? Are we trying to keep them on the straight and narrow because they know they are being watched therefore, they won’t attempt things we would disapprove of? Is it to find missing children because they have a phone on them and law enforcement can locate them with GPS? (Which by the way, old school flip phones can do that) We’ve decided that the technology can replace the open lines of communication with our children. The technology can ensure, if I have fallen short in my parenting, and you feel the need to go against my rules, no problem…I’ll just monitor the hell out of you and let’s not worry about the real issue which is….we haven’t established a good family trust.
Now, what about the kids that have the phones, respect parent wishes, follow the rules, stay out of trouble, are where they are supposed to be, use it as the tool it was designed to be used as, are completely immune to any hurt attached to social media, are the best oral communicators, have never been exposed to inappropriate content on the internet, engage with peers and adults, have terrific eye contact, always respond when they are in their screen and you never have to repeat yourself, self-regulate and unplug without any prompting, never throw a fit when you say “time’s up” and put it in the glovebox while driving?
I say to you parents…CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve either done something really right, or you got darn lucky, because your child is a rare statistic today.