Little people glued to electronics… everywhere I go.
“Oh that’s so cute!” The elderly woman coos, as she walks by a baby in a shopping cart busy gumming his parent’s cell phone. I used to think it was cute too. Infants gumming cell phones results in teens who know more than I do about my phone. It will happen to you too, you hipster Mom… I bet that grandma never had to negotiate the great electronics debate either.
I know, I know… some apps have educational value and videos are helpful distractions, remember Baby Einstein? All this phone use has now led us to the great electronic debate, due to the addictive properties that electronics seem to have on us, young and old alike.
Electronic use has been a huge topic of discussion and argument since the iTouch was given as a Christmas gift some years ago.
With this gift, my kids became like all their peers and they could rest easy in the social acceptance department. Some days, I wish I had never introduced them to the magical electronic rectangles, but I’m as much of a sucker as the rest. When Mama needs a minute alone to think, go the bathroom, or eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s by HERSELF, those rectangles do come in handy.
We have typically upheld a rule about usage- with one hour at night being set aside for “electronic time.” Yes, there are days when the kids sneak their gadgets a few minutes early or proclaim that the iTouch will strictly be used for listening to music- to which my eyes roll, and I gesture that I’ll be watching them closely.
I recently decided to modify this rule due to a suggestion made by my youngest. “Mom, can I suggest something?” to which I hesitantly responded yes. “What if we had access to our electronics at all times after school, and we could use them when we wanted?” It was at that point I began to interrupt but was stopped. “Wait Mom! What if doing that makes us use them less, because there’s less restriction?”
Oh man… I encourage my kids to think critically about important matters, but I didn’t want this discussion. I was afraid to let go of control of something I was sure would threaten their brains and physical health.
“Well, I’ll consider it. That’s the best I can do right now.” That was the end of the discussion for some time.
Bailey turned 13 on the 21st of April. For her birthday, she requested a camera to explore her artistic side. I wholeheartedly agreed with this purchase. Until the next week, when Bailey decided that she wanted a cow. “Mom, I want a cow.” We have two cats, three kids, and we’ve dabbled in raising chickens (which is a whole other story) and thus, my menagerie is full. I said we’d discuss other options later. I suggested that her gift be practical and affordable, so we decided on a pair of jeans. Case closed… until in swept Super Stepdad.
His name is Karl, and he’s the fun one. I get to be the rule enforcer and the one who picks veggie based meals for dinner, while he’s the one known for his frozen pizza delight.
He looks tough but has a super soft spot for my kids. The idea he threw out at me did not totally catch me off guard. “I want to get her a phone,” he announced. “Um, I told them when they’re older and can help pay, they are welcome to get their own phones” I reminded him. On one hand, I wanted to support him for treating the kids to a surprise and making it the best birthday ever. But, on the other hand, his idea went against all that was sacred to me. This would make it official… they would have phones like grown up people do, and I worried about how I could further control the electronic tsunami engulfing my home. The iTouches were now being traded in for real live phones!
One solution I considered was “NetNanny.” My friend used it with her kids to control content, time usage, and all the evils that unlimited screen time and internet access would bring upon our home. I researched parental control software for hours to find one that would keep the kids out of harm’s way, and me from having a meltdown. Finally, the wise advice from my 11 year old rang out again through my hubby. “Let them have a chance to manage this themselves, without time restrictions. Let’s give them a chance.” So the phones were given as birthday gifts, one early gift to my 14 year old and the other to my new 13 year old. Their stepdad had a proud moment when the phones were opened, and after all the screaming and tears had commenced, I was happy too… I was letting go. “So Mom, what are the rules with these things?” my son asked after all of the celebration. “You will contribute to the phone bill but otherwise there are no rules. This is your opportunity to practice regulation. I won’t be around you forever to tell you to get off of the thing so you might as well start trying now.”
That was tough and at the same time so liberating.
This doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep an eye on the phones and how my kids are using them. We do have the app that shows time usage and number of texts, and the kids know that there are no secrets. Also, homework always comes first. This is a huge leap for me and I feel like I’ve retired from the job- but on the other hand, aren’t we here to raise adults?
So how did the last child make out that didn’t get a phone? Oh, she’s fine. Her brother gladly passed down his iTouch, and she’s a happy clam. And how’s Mom?
It’s a process letting these little ducklings spread their wings and take on more responsibility but watching them arrange their own lives in a healthy way is much more gratifying than micromanaging every detail.
Written by Hannah Zeno
Hi! I’m Hannah, mom to three crazy kids: Riley (11), Bailey (13), and Lucas (14). My life could be a reality show. My hubby, Karl, is cool as a cucumber- and has to be to thrive with my zany bunch! I’ve spent the last 7 years as a renowned bikini waxer (no, I’m not kidding) and have recently turned off my wax pot to pursue my love for women’s health and happiness. I’m a holistic health coach and blog at www.hannahzeno.com. See you there!