There was a recent incident in my daughter’s middle school class involving outside school use of the internet which took on a life of its own, resulting in unfavorable side effects for those involved. Now, I am not a prude by any stretch, and my addiction to my phone and my laptop is probably equivalent to that of any thirteen year old. So, I understand it’s captivating powers, similar to Linda Blair in the Exorcist. But, parents, there is a way around it’s superpowers, I think, and again, only my experience and my voice, where there is a balance between weapon and an encyclopedia.
The handful of times I have been interviewed about mom paraphernalia, the internet, and the phone always come up. Like, come one, you have eight kids, what’s your take. For what it’s worth, here’s my thought on phone and electronics usage for Generation Z.
1. Alaska has the highest gun ownership rate at 61.7 %. Sweet little unassuming, quiet, salmon capital, Alaska. Like do you even know anyone from Alaska (my uncle Elio moved there to be a logger)? Right…you probably don’t. But the ones who do live there seem to like guns, all different types. Be careful of the quiet ones. Seems peaceful enough, though, the Aurora Borealis and all. Consider the fact that if Alaska had no rules, no strictures on who could purchase a gun without proper education and documentation, Alaska would be a glacier of dead bodies with its only inhabitants a bunch of mackerel and penguins cooling it on a glacier. I liken this to cell phones, (I am using cell phones as the catch-all for pads, computers, etc), without teaching them how to use it. Before any kid puts this proverbial pistol in their tiny little baby hands, show them what it’s about, and what YOU expect. It’s really that simple. Let them know big brother is watching, and some impromptu target practice might be in order. Be very, very clear of the mishaps that can occur, the devastation created by its mishandling, and even the most minor written infraction can and will be held against them by you, a friend, a college or future employer or even the police.
Yes, scare the living shit out of your little bundle of joy and remind them that sending anything written, or screen shot is INDELLIBLE and IMMORTAL, and if not aimed or handled correctly can cause irreversible damage both for the sender and the receiver.
2. I think we would all like to keep our kids in a Habitrail.
A little food, water, come out to play, TLC, exercise … it’s all good, and it’s all under our control, and babyface is well protected, never to be bothered or assimilated in the outside world. Guess what … GAME SHOW BUZZER … not realistic. Each generation has their “thing,” and as time marches onward, communication and electronics are no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and are the smoke signal pow wows of today’s teen and pre-teen. When Devin and Brynn were in middle school, Al and I discussed phones. We both agreed that no child would be given a phone until their time had come, which to us meant eighth grade. At that point, they would have cemented time with their family, learned about pitfalls and apps that could do them in, and not be so easily seduced by this inanimate contraption that could lead them into the Garden of Eden, and away from your parental grip.
However, as the years moved on and the phone became a necessity rather than a luxury, it was clear to us that Valentina, next in line for Maxwell Smart’s shoe, needed a phone not only for all her theatrical pick-ups and drop-offs, but for socialization as well. If we did not allow her a phone, we were ostracizing her from her cohorts who communicated by text, Instagram, Snap Chat, etc. We allowed her to use her phone for a certain amount of hours each day to communicate with other pre-teen chatter boxes, and we set limits, but we did not forbid. It’s hard for a child to assimilate and be socially accepted and normal if they aren’t communicating the way the rest of the tribe is. To my dismay, this electronic disseminator was as much a part of their lives as my rotary phone and Sony Walkman.
BTW, YOU ARE NOT GOD, A PHONECIAN SCRIBE OR J. EDGAR HOOVER
3. I have chatted with so many parents who pride themselves on knowing “everything” their little angel is doing on the computer or the phone, tablet or whatever the purveyor of information may be. Really? Well, I’ve been at this gig 22 years, and I just found out a few things my third grader can do with his Xbox that raised my recently shaped eyebrows. I’d love to see how these parents pull this rabbit out of a hat and manage to eat and shower every day.
Face it, it’s almost impossible to know everything they know, every app, every download every everything. Unfortunately, they have one up on us here, and no matter how much you think you know, you really don’t. I consider my kids pretty well behaved and savvy, and every once in a while, when I witness those Jack Be Nimble fingers tattering across the keyboard or banging on the phone like a baby chick running for its feed, I realize I can never keep up. If they wanted to do something dastardly they probably could.
Don’t beat yourself up but be aware of what’s out there. Unless you take phones away at night, you probably have no clue about the cyber party going on in an upstairs bedroom. Lord knows, unlike me, my kids are night owls, and the silent guest that sleeps with your kids is very influential. Your choice here is to limit activity, (or have none at all) based on the keyboard banger. Trust your judgement, and intuition and as indicated above, have clear cut conversations about what goes on in screenshot land. And, btw, lol, learn some lingo and throw it into a text with your kid. Subliminally, they will get the message that you are cool enough to send an emoji, and probably know what you are doing.
OMG! WE’RE ENGAGED!!
4. Sounds excitedly romantic! However, in this case an idle mind is the devil’s workshop and a kid who has no time, will probably use his internet time wisely or not at all. Keep your kid engaged with a passion or pastime and nurture it. A child who has something to commit to and be responsible for in his/her off-school hours is less likely to turn to the phone or pad for companionship. A bored kid will seek adventures and play dates without any physical contact. Help your offspring to choose an activity that is healthy and exciting for them. They will be less likely to hibernate and get lost in space.
5. Every parent sets boundaries (or not) according to what they feel is paramount in their family’s life. Although I do not agree with a child younger than middle school having a phone, each parent has reasons beyond any of my business or yours as to when their kid is bestowed this privilege.
I won’t judge. But a universal rule at any stage is communication, discussion and consistent checking in. Empower your child with the knowledge and fear of how to use their device and it’s destructive abilities coupled with its productive mechanisms so they may gravitate towards the positive usage of their new appendage.
DON’T BE A VICTIM
6. A good lesson to teach your kid is if they see something, say something. The minute something starts going awry on the internet, and they have a modicum of involvement just from being an innocent bystander or an unwanted participant in a group chat, or an admitted player, they need to tell you with no judgement. Stop the tears and take action. Dismiss yourself immediately and seek parental refuge. Don’t be cyber bullied by cowards or seduced by a stranger. Let your kid know it’s ok to tell you what’s going on if they feel something isn’t right and together you will plot accordingly based on the degree of rogue involved. The teen set is especially notorious for not realizing they have taken something too far. They think everything is just hilarious.
In the end, it’s about you, your child, and the choices you make about how to handle this powerful stranger. Be smart. Learn as much as you can and educate your child to the max. You can’t be everywhere, see everything, hear everything read every text or unearth every history or link. I always say the best gift I can give my children is judgement. I certainly don’t know it all out there, but I will be as aware as I possibly can and teach them the same. And never say, “not my kid.”