I feel like an old man when I tell my kids, “When I was a kid we didn’t have these fancy smancy ‘iPhones.” We had to turn a big dial with holes in it with our index finger and the phone was connected to the WALL.”
Their response: “You’re totally making that up dad!”
Look, I get it. Technology is wonderful and our ability to connect with people is easier than ever. However, I think sometimes we become slaves to our gadgets and at some point we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen to our kids. Too often our ability to communicate face to face is lost as we find safety in sending a text rather than speaking to a real person. Case in point; kids with phones. The very idea that someone under the age of 16 would have their own phone was a hard pill for me to swallow. But in our efforts to keep up with the Joneses and the influences of society we as parents are now adding to the family budget the expense of our kids having a phone. We use the excuse of “well they need to be able to stay in touch in case something happens.” Which is true. But how much of it is luxury and how much of it is necessity?
As a divorced parent, I know I like being able to communicate with my kids when they’re with their mother. I know their mom feels the same way. And I most definitely believe it helps the kids knowing they’re able to stay connected with both of us at all times. So when a little text comes to me from “Favorite Daughter” saying, “I LOVE YOU DADDY,” you know I reply immediately, “I love you too!” so that she knows I’m there whenever she needs me.
But there is a danger here if the kids are given carte blanche with their new gadget. If left to themselves, they will bury their faces in that damn screen and be lost for hours. At one point the only way I could get my oldest child down for dinner was to send her a text letting her know it was on the table. I also noticed an attitude emerging as she was texting continuously for days with her friends rather than communicating with her family. She would hole herself up in her room and just disappear for hours. Even if you’re communicating with others, if you’re physically by yourself, to me you’re still very much alone.
And so we made some changes. Now when she gets home from school she is given an hour with the phone. When she uses that hour, is completely up to her, but it’s one hour and nothing more. Now, this was just implemented recently so the jury is still deliberating the effectiveness, but I will tell you so far it seems to be working. She has handed the phone over upon entering the house each day and used her hour at the very end of the day. So far she has been hanging out with her siblings and me watching TV, doing homework downstairs, shooting baskets in the driveway and just chasing her brother and sister around the house. She has been more respectful to everyone and much more willing to go with the flow.
Is this all due to the new rule? Hard to tell, but I personally think it’s two pronged. First, she’s pulled away from the glow of the phone. Second, I’m basically telling her I want to hang out with her. She needs to feel that. Letting her be by herself I think tells her just the opposite. I remember one day I told my oldest daughter that I didn’t like that she was spending so much time alone in her room. She said, “Hey I asked you if you wanted to go throw the softball around and you said you were busy.” Ouch. She had me there. What could I say? Opportunity lost.
I think it speaks to a child’s need for limits, their desire for us to set them and that if we don’t make a point of engaging them, something else will. They need us to structure their lives to some degree and teach them a basic rule that my kids here on a daily basis; “All things in moderation.” They also need human contact and if we don’t give it to them they’ll find a way to get it even if it’s through a piece of metal. A phone is indeed a luxury and in my opinion can be a dangerous one. I mean, come on, how many of us ‘adults’ have lost an hour playing Words With Friends or some mindless other game on our smart phone? Imagine that distraction in a kid’s hand. So if you see your kid’s face buried in that little screen don’t hesitate to consider some guidelines. Stop and recognize that looking through that window for extended periods of time cannot be healthy.
Bottom line: “FaceTime” is cool … “Face to Face” time is better.