The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Technology in Children and Teens – Excerpts
Busy parents question when they should allow their kids to have smartphones. Because both children and their parents are busy, parents like to be able to text their kids and know when and where they are going places. But parents also know that phone usage started too early can be addictive and lead to isolation; kids can feel isolated after using too much technology instead of socializing with their friends in person. Busy parents are practical yet wise enough to not risk the early onset of depression, discussed in earlier chapters, in their children and teens—who isolate themselves online when they do not contact or connect with others.
Ari and His Parents:
The Question of Phone Usage at Age Ten
Ari is a reserved child who just turned ten; he is in the fifth grade and attending middle school. He tends to keep to himself, reading books avidly, playing video games, and building projects with his dad. He has a few friends but doesn’t tend to gravitate to social experiences, such as team sports. He enjoys school, does well academically, and has joined a science club that meets two days after school. He’s been pressing his parents for an iPhone, because he likes all the apps and music and looks forward to using them. He also enjoys photography and wants to be able to take pictures and create videos with his phone. On the school bus, he’s noticed that all the other kids have phones, even those younger than he is, so he feels justified in pressing his parents to get him an up-to-date smartphone. He’s tech-wise and knows he’ll be able to go online with it as well as use it as an actual phone. His parents’ main hesitation is their worry that Ari is so tech-wise that he’ll isolate himself from making friends except through texting, i-messaging, and emailing. He doesn’t have a pension for FaceTime, but his parents would be pleased if he did; then he’d have more personal contact with others.
Ari’s dad is an introverted guy and doesn’t object to the phone, feeling that society’s preference for extroverted people isn’t the way of the world or necessary. People have different temperaments and personalities, and he feels that Ari is well-adjusted and a great kid. Ari’s mother is more of a happy-go-lucky social person and worries about Ari isolating himself—even though he joined the science club, to her delight. She wants him to feel in the social loop and likes the idea of being able to contact him when she’s at work. However, she and her husband are very busy professionals and Ari is an only child, so she is fearful of Ari becoming addicted to phone usage even though his plans for using it are very varied.
Ari’s folks decide to use the Parental Intelligence Way to resolve this question, collaborating with Ari about the decision.
Children and Technology:
The Parental Intelligence Way
Carrie’s Six-Year-Old Obsession with Video Games
Carrie was a rambunctious six-year-old in first grade with four older brothers, whom she was always trying to keep up with. Whenever they were in the car together, she watched a video on her oldest brother’s iPad. Her brother was happy to share it with her and got a kick out of her shows. But she didn’t talk with anyone as she watched, immersing herself completely in her movie choice of the day. She told this brother she wanted to keep his iPad for herself. She said that he “had enough techy things” and that she wanted her own. He told her that she could borrow it any time, but he wasn’t giving it up. “Why don’t you ask Dad if he’ll buy you one. He likes videos. He’ll understand.”
“He thinks I’m too young to have tech stuff,” she said, annoyed.
“Don’t give up so quickly,” her brother said. “Asking can’t hurt.”
“Yes, it can—if he says no!!”
Carrie’s mother was driving and overheard this conversation. She decided she would bring up the question with her husband that night.
Step One: Stepping Back
Carrie’s mother knew that her daughter was prone to temper tantrums when she didn’t get her way. She wanted to discuss “the iPad question” with her husband before they were confronted by their somewhat testy six-year-old—who was used to getting her way, as the baby in the family. She knew that asking for an iPad had been on Carrie’s agenda for a few weeks now and wanted her husband’s take on the matter.
Carrie’s father felt Carrie was young to have an expensive tech device but knew there were a lot of opportunities for learning with an iPad, outside of just videos. She could draw, play educational games, and read on the iPad. He didn’t want her isolating herself with videos all day, like an avid TV watcher, but they controlled how much TV Carrie watched, and she didn’t protest their restrictions. He did say to his wife, “I want this to be a civil conversation—no temper tantrums. If she heads in that direction, we will abort the conversation until she settles down and is really open to an exploration of the device.” Carrie’s mother agreed.
Step Two: Self-Reflecting
Carrie’s mother really had no reservations. In her mind, there was no difference between Carrie borrowing her brother’s iPad and having her own to use and explore. She was calm about the whole thing. However, Carrie’s father was a bit agitated about the money issue. He thought that she should have a sense of proportion about what things cost—even at age six. He was going to bring that up during the conversation: an iPad could cost $100, which wasn’t just a kid’s toy.
Step Three: Understanding Your Child’s Mind
Mother: “Carrie. I understand from your conversation with your brother in the car the other day that you want your own iPad. Can you tell us your thoughts about that?”
Carrie: “Yeah. Cool. I love my videos and I could watch them anytime without bothering anyone else.”
Father: “Carrie, I don’t want you watching videos all day long. That’s just like you watching movies on TV, and it will keep you from doing a lot of other things. You are learning to read. How about spending time doing that, too?”
Carrie: “Daddy, you can read on an iPad. Don’t you know that? I’ll read on it. I promise. Please! This is such a good idea. You can even tell me how many videos I can watch each day and I’ll listen. Really. Really. What do you think? I’ll be so happy.”
Father: “How about one video every other day, max? Then I want you to learn all the other kinds of things you can do on an iPad—like drawing, playing number games, learning new words to read, and other stuff. We can download different games to play together. What do you think of that?”
Carrie: “I think that’s good. Yeah, really good. Will you play with me?”
Father: “Yes. We’ll explore it together. But I want you to know that this is a big expense. Not a lot of six-year-olds get to have so much money spent on them for one thing. You must take really good care of it. What do you think about that?”
Carrie: “I’m sure I’ll take good care of it, because I want it so much. I’ll do all kinds of stuff with it if you teach me. I’ll keep it in a special drawer in my desk when I’m not using it, so it will be safe. Is that what you mean?”
Father: (smiling) “Yes. That’s what I mean. Okay, well Mommy and I will talk a little more about it and then let you know.”
Carrie: “What? We aren’t deciding right now? I want to get it NOW!”
Mother: “Carrie, you just yelled at us. You can be a little more patient while we think this through. Could you just wait ten minutes, please?”
Carrie: (Sensing a tantrum was a bad idea) “Okay. Sorry I yelled.”
Teens and Technology:
The Parental Intelligence Way
Online transgressions can be very complex, even in small communities. Here is an example of two seventh-grade girls faced with a cyberbullying incident that involved two sets of parents and the school. If not for the Parental Intelligence Way, this incident could have escalated into a uniquely hostile environment for all involved.
Lidia Reacts to Cyberbullying
Lidia is a thirteen-year-old eighth grader who loves going online. But when her friends set up an online profile on Instagram where people were asked to comment or vote for the prettiest girl among the four shown, she was worried to see her picture there. The ostensible idea of the kids who set this up was to show their friends pretty girls. However, one of the profile creators stuffed the virtual ballot box so that Lidia did not emerge victorious. The kids who set this up didn’t realize that by creating the poll, the three remaining girls involved in the vote, including Lidia, would have their feelings hurt.
One of the kids who set up the profile, Evie, had a secret vengeance toward Lidia, whom she envied because Lidia was the class president. Evie deliberately wanted to distress Lidia, knowing her sensitivities to her body image. Evie had lost to Lidia in the recent election, and her intention was to set up Lidia as a loser by rigging the vote to show that Lidia was the least pretty. This ballot stuffing was done to cause harm to Lidia, making this intentional act one we could call cyberbullying. The voting was repeated for several days, making it a repetitive act.
Unfortunately, the post went viral around the school grade, though stayed in this one school and community, but Lidia was embarrassed and ashamed. She didn’t want to return to school. She started having panic attacks, which had never happened before, and knew her anxiety was out of control. She didn’t want to tell her parents at first, fearing they would take away her computer and phone access in order to protect her; when in actuality, taking her devices would make Lidia an even greater outlier from the other girls. Lidia’s busy parents, however, had used the Parental Intelligence Way with Lidia since she was a young child, so she trusted them more than she feared their reactions and decided to confide in them. Lidia had found out that it was Evie who had initiated the incident and wanted her parents to know this truth—but she was worried because Lidia and Evie’s parents were friendly, both having high-achieving daughters in the same grade and school. Both Lidia and Evie had a 99 percent average and excelled in many school leadership positions. Lidia had just beaten Evie in the class president election by a mere twenty votes, and they had vied in another club election, with Lidia winning there as well.