Parenting is most challenging when the problem takes on weighty, almost absurd levels of symbolic meaning.
And in today’s world, few things carry more power than the glowing screen of a phone – destroyer of innocence, bane of ambition and the ruin of many a teenager.
Despite the available parental control apps and some common sense, children have greater access to the world than their parents did at the same age.
Smartphones offers untold surprises lurking underneath the rocks. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking for parents.
Here is a list of guidelines for responsible phone use, that will hopefully inspire good behaviour.
1. Do not lose the supertoy.
This rule has not been a problem. Why did I even think this needed to be a rule? Kennedy knows where her phone is at all times, as it is always within arm’s reach. Now, if she could only be as diligent about her jackets.
2. Do not pull an all-nighter.
Kennedy’s bedtime is 9pm, and we don’t want her up at all hours of the night watching videos on her phone. Here’s where the ParentKit app is handy. On ParentKit, I can set a schedule that shuts every app down. As a bonus, from anywhere in the house, I can tell when it’s 8.30pm because I hear Kennedy shout in frustration when her phone locks up in the middle of a video. I take joy in the small things.
3. Do not use your phone during dinner.
Kennedy is good about leaving her phone alone when we eat together. From what I’ve observed, it’s the parents who have the problem. I remember taking my daughter out to lunch one afternoon. At the restaurant, I saw parent after parent buried in their phones, while their kids ate in silence. We need to show our kids that they are the priority, not Facebook.
4. Do not dare kids to steal your phone.
We don’t want Kennedy flaunting the phone to her classmates. Not only could it make her friends feel bad – and, in turn, they’ll torment their parents about getting a phone – it also increases the risk of someone stealing it. Theft committed by kids always seems to begin with the phrase: “Check out this cool thing I have.”
5. Do not be a troll.
My daughter is a sweet kid. That doesn’t mean she’s a saint. Parents, don’t be fooled. Any child is capable of being a bully to somebody. We don’t want Kennedy sending mean texts to other people. We also don’t want her posting photos of anyone without their permission. The Internet is filled with people who find humour in embarrassing others. That’s not us.
6. Do not be one of those kids.
A child should not ignore the person in front of her in order to respond to a text message. We’ve all been there. We’re talking with a friend, and his phone buzzes. He looks at it and makes a snap decision as to who is more interesting, the person in front of him or the person on the phone. He holds up an index figure to indicate this will only take a second. You’ve been denied. You should have been more interesting. I think, even if it’s a parent texting, the child should wait until an appropriate time to respond.
7. Avoid creepy internet boyfriends.
I buried this rule near the bottom, but it’s the one that worries us the most, isn’t it? Predatory men and women looking for kids they can manipulate. Do not assume your child is “street smart” enough to know the difference between the good people and the bad people. I’m almost 40, and even I am just figuring this one out. If Kennedy gets a text from someone she doesn’t know, she takes it directly to one of her parents.
8. Do not trust a phone.
A child’s phone is personal, but it’s never private. It would probably be good for parents to adopt a similar mindset. Is anything we do online truly private? Has it ever been? Her phone is not the equivalent of a locked, closed bedroom door. No, it’s more like hanging out on the couch while mom and dad are in the next room – private enough to complain about the lack of privacy. Kennedy knows that when it comes to her phone, I’m the NSA.
I’d like to say these guidelines were so perfectly crafted that we’ve never had a problem with Kennedy and her phone. But the fact is she is her father’s daughter. She is just as obsessed with her phone as I am with mine.
If anything, Kennedy’s phone habits have placed a mirror up to my own tendency to grasp at my phone every other second. I have to consider my own guidelines for how I use my phone. It’s pushing me to become a better parent, to put aside the distractions and find ways to engage with my family and not the glowing screen.