My children want smartphones. Especially my 12-year-old. The 9-year-old wants one because his brother says he wants one, but he doesn’t have the kind of social life that his brother does yet. Most kids around my older son’s age have smartphones, some with limited functionality (i.e. some kids have smartphones for video games and phone calls but no internet access). Why won’t their dad and I get them smartphones, they ask all the time.
First of all, I am a fuddy duddy. Just kidding—but not really. I don’t think a 12-year-old needs a phone unless they are physically away from me, and in the city I live in, there is nowhere I would leave my child without an adult present. Period. When I was 12, I was dropped at the mall with friends, but that’s not part of my kids’ life. It just isn’t. When they get older and need to be away from me—when they start taking classes at college, for example—they will need a way to communicate with me. Right now? They are either with me or with their father or an occasional D&D campaign run by a dad in our community. I don’t think they need a phone.
Second of all, I don’t think my kids need video games in their hand. We set aside distinct times when our boys play games. I don’t want them having constant access to games when they have so many other things to play with, look at, think about, and do.
Third, I don’t like the social interactions I see a lot of kids having on social media, and I don’t think it would add to my sons’ lives to take part in that right now. It’s not healthy for small people to be constantly monitoring likes, comments, and other people’s lives the way social media allows us to. It’s not where I want them spending their time. There is research that indicates the secret to teen happiness may be less screen time, and even more research that links increased screen time to increased teen anxiety and depression.
My boys are always supervised when they have internet access. Always. I don’t need to “trust” them, I need to protect them. The internet is a wonderful place but it’s also a potentially very disturbing, scary place with images and videos of things that can absolutely harm them and make them very upset.
And I need to cut down on my own phone time. The immediacy of smartphones has made my manager, publicist, and assistant able to reach me and expect answers at all times. I’ve bought into it. I feel a compulsive need to respond to things immediately. I had stopped bringing my phone with me into restaurants when I am out with my boys; that lasted a month or so and now I’m back in the rat race. It has to stop.
We don’t interact with our kids in present and healthy ways when we are glued to our phones. We can try and we can do better than others, but the fact is this: Just like reading an actual paper book and reading a book on a Kindle are not the same thing, and just like seeing your child walk for the first time versus spending that moment recording it are not the same thing, being with your kid and being with your kid while also being on your phone are not the same thing.
At my younger son’s birthday party last year, I realized as my ex and I brought him his cake that neither my ex nor I had cameras with us. We didn’t even say to anyone, “Make sure you get a picture!” We just had our eyes and our hearts open and ready to be present in the moment. I knew others would take pictures, but it also didn’t matter. As a matter of fact, we have not videotaped any birthday cake ceremony their entire lives. We have harnessed an ability to be present, and I want to regain that in more ways.
Screen time and phone time has shifted our notion of being available and of being present. It is impacting our children in very meaningful ways for good and potentially for not-so-good. I am committed to making shifts in ways that bring me closer to my kids and closer to a sense of peace with technology for me, for my kids, and for the sake of all of our interactions, virtual and otherwise – whether my kids appreciate it or not. And there has been discussion of my older son getting a phone at 13 when our religious faith dictates that he is a man…but that conversation was had with his dad and not me. So we will see how that turns out once I get my 2 cents in there. Stay tuned!