“Mom, can I take my iPod to school?”
I didn’t expect it to startle me the way that it did. We’ve always let the girls play with our electronics, our phones chock full of apps and videos recommended by Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech. I am not ashamed of the amount of screen time they have and feel confident in the boundaries we’ve set with what they can look at or play. I’ve proudly snapped pictures of them after finding them cuddled like kittens playing Stack the States together.
I think the difference is the idea of them using the devices in the company of the pack on the bus. The bus having become this place where bad things happen and things are learned at the feet of rebellion-thirsty kids. I was a late-bloomer and while I don’t kid myself into thinking that the girls will be exactly like me, they have been slow to dive into the glossy, preening, grown-up world that is so readily offered in the toy aisle. I’ve loved it and been proud of the time they’ve had, but I am also ready, albeit nervously, to allow them to dip their toes into new water.
Rationally I know that they need the opportunity to make good decisions and not so good decisions, that the lessons inherent in decision making are not something I can teach or scare into them.
“So can I?”
It’s Avery. She is at once the easiest and the hardest, feelings easily hurt and a daring that makes me wonder if she has enough natural fear to keep her safe. Maybe it’s better though, the fear I had didn’t keep me from bad decisions as much as it kept me from pursuing dreams.
“I’m not sure. I need to talk to dad. We haven’t really made up our minds on this, ok?”
She huffs, annoyed and resigned. “Hey, we’ll figure it out, ok?” She nods as she walks away.
It feels a bit like standing on a dock and stuffing marshmallows in a leaky rowboat that is drifting away, but then, Ave isn’t a rowboat and she doesn’t have a leak. She is a second grader surrounded by kids already using cell phones, texting friends and playing on apps as they take the bus to school. Briar is in fourth and while she isn’t asking to take my old phone to school as often as Ave is, she is even more surrounded with girls texting, using Instagram, and playing Minecraft.
There is something about this particular stage that feels vastly less intuitive, somehow with eating organic and outlawing Bratz dolls, I felt no doubt. These decisions were right for our family and I never wavered. This new realm of iPhones and texting, I won’t deny I am struggling. It feels dramatically irreversible.
Santa, Tooth Fairy, God, Smoking, Death, Violence
All of these things will inevitably be addressed, I mean even as I wrote this Fin grinned at me from the dining room table and said, “Hey mama, I’ve been wondering about where babies come from.” I have to laugh and thank the universe for keeping me laughing at the log-rolling impossibility of staying ahead of all the twists and turns of parenting. There are no water stops or cooling stations, just more, “Mom, why was there blood on your toilet paper? I saw it before you flushed.”
When Briar came and hovered behind me as I was typing on the computer I paused. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing. You don’t have to stop. I just want to watch.” I was hunting for a pair of shoes for Sean. “Are you shopping?” I said that I was and we sat together looking at shoes, eventually shifting from Jack Purcell slip ons to open toe boots. Briar squealed when a particularly fierce, laser-cut pair of red leather boots came on the screen. “You like those? I asked.
“Yes, they are so cool they look almost like art.”
It occurred to me that while we haven’t cracked the phones at school nut, maybe we could carve out a space for them to explore. “You know sometimes I find things, shoes as an example, that I like, but that I might not wear. Maybe they’re too expensive or too high, whatever. Rather than buying them I pin them.
“You pin them? Is that Pinterest?” she smiled. I nodded.
“Ok, let’s try something.” I opened Pinterest and created a board for the girls. I explained to Briar how she could use the board and all the types of things that she could pin.
“Thank you sooo much, mom. This is so cool.” She spent the next 30 minutes beaming at the screen and pausing thoughtfully to consider her words.
Later Avery came downstairs, “What was Briar doing on your laptop earlier?” I explained that she was pinning things and that Ave could do it if she wanted to.
“Really? You’ll let me?” she asked. I nodded and let her dive into this new world. For now I think what she craves is new access, it doesn’t have to be a device on the bus. Yet.
Do you have the phone thing figured out for kids? Will you share your take?
I feel so lucky – and honestly I have no idea how or why it played out this way – but both my boys, even at 12 and 16 years old, eschew social media (FB, Twitter, Instagram) and are averse even to carrying cell phones. The other day we tried and failed to reach the teen on his cell, which we had pressed into his hand before he left the house. (He couldn’t even tell you his own cell phone number!) I turned to my husband, sighed in frustration, muttered, “He didn’t even turn it ON.”
Which pretty much says everything about where my kids are in relation to all of it.
I sense that I have escaped something large and thorny, and am grateful. I don’t have any answers, sad to say, except that I have faith that all of your girls are sensible.
And brilliant move, to spark their interest in Pinterest.
Thanks. I’m hoping it can be a fun thing for them. They all piled up on the couch and pinned tonight. “Mom, mom, we’re pin-ninnnnnng!” Fin yelled.
I love the Pinterest idea and may have to steal it for my youngest daughter. I have a feeling, though, that her Pinterest board would be full of dogs.
She is 11.5 and has not yet asked for a phone. We will get her one in middle school because of after school activities and no home phone. The older two also got phones in middle school but only recently got smart phones. Though it seems like the availability of quality dumb phones is dwindling so I imagine the youngest will be ahead of her siblings in that area.
Going to be different for each one it’s all moving so fast. Bet my girls’d repin her dog pins 🙂
My kid attended a Waldorf school starting at 18 months that firmly discouraged media and computers. This worked for us and fit our family values. It wasn’t a problem for my son since it was all he ever really knew. I never asked people to turn off the tv or put away the video games at their house but mostly my kid ignored them. Most of our friends were also part of school community. Which made things easier. When he reached the teen years we allowed computers, television, he made pretty good choices. At 18 he has given up video games–but loves his private pinterest board. Give me strength.
No, I would not-did not allow my kid to take electronics to school Even a phone.Simple because I think they need to enjoy childhood without being tethered to a phone or sitting in front of a screen. I have driven by school at recess and noticed a number of kids sitting against walls with their “devices.” Yes, I am judgmental of the schools.
I think families need to do what works best for them. And I have never regretted for one minute living completely media, computer, video game free until my kid was about 13. BTW, he picked up computer skills as quick as someone learns to use the phone. We still only have one television. Laptops all around :-D.
Your family is lovely. I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for allowing me to pontificate on a subject I am rather passionate about…first comments should probably be a little milder and briefer.
Are you kidding? This is exactly the kind of input I wanted! We are working at a balance of outdoor time and screen time. I value and respect the desire to avoid the tractor beam of the screens and nurturing face-to-face interactions. It will definitely be a bit of trial and error as we go.
Oh, God, NO – I do not have this figured out and I so totally agree that it feels murkier, harder, more irrevocable and fraught than some earlier decisions. I worry about this all the time. My instinctive reaction is always NO but at the same time I recognize that they are growing up in this world and I want them to learn about technology from me, and to grow up facile and comfortable. I have let Grace have an instagram account, on the condition that she is protected and takes no selfies – so far it’s only been a total joy, and she always asks before posting anything. Actually she has to ask before using her ipod (she doesn’t have a phone) at all. She’s super interested in Pinterest, so maybe I will let her explore that … xoxo
Our discussions have been a bit related to the idea of leaving the girls at home so I can go to the market or run an errand. We’d like for there to be a mechanism for calling or texting. Clearly we’re not there yet.
In our house, we don’t permit screens or devices of any kind (including television) when the kids are bored or when they are trying to be cool/fit in. At least not without some open and probing conversations first.
I was raised screenless myself (this is of course pre-internet and pre-device, but my home growing up did not have television or video games) and as an adult I am proud of this and grateful for it. I had no resentment about this as a kid or teenager either. In retrospect, I think my parents could have done things a little differently, and I am trying to do things a little differently now.
My parents were shaming about what they considered, I think, “inferior” forms of culture. My father had grown up really poor and was himself ashamed of his roots, so he was insistent on raising me and my siblings with what he considered “class.” We all played classical music and read a lot of books and did a lot of imaginative play, and I am very, very grateful for all of that. But I am not grateful for the feelings of guilt and shame I later had as an adolescent for being curious about the things my friends and classmates were interested in (and this went beyond television and also included other normal aspects of growing up like shaving my legs and wearing makeup, interest in dating… all things that it seemed my parents looked down on). I wish that there had been more room for dialogue, or at least a sense that they could hear our feelings about the boundaries they imposed, even if they didn’t budge on them.
With my kids, I am really careful not to shame them for their curiosity about or interest in things that surround them in our culture. But I also really value now, as an adult, that I know how to focus on books or practice piano for 3 hours or see a creative project through to the end, or just daydream. At times I get sucked in by the pull of my devices and I have to remind myself to shut them off, and I want to make sure my kids grow up with a deep awareness of their own minds and their own strength to guide them. So that’s why in our house devices can be used for particular tasks or projects, but can’t just be reached for mindlessly. My kids have their own (shared) tablet and they can use it for school projects or homework assignments; email with their friends (I don’t read their emails; my parents never got to listen to my phone conversations!) and certain other social media; photography or other creative projects; and ONLY when we travel – to watch movies or play games.
My kids have pushed back at times, but I am pretty firm that if they are bored, they need to do something off-screen. When it comes to “but all my friends” it’s tougher. I once told my daughter, “if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” and I realized only then how stupid a question that is. If all my friends were jumping off a cliff, to be totally honest? I probably WOULD. I think as humans we do tend to follow each other’s leads, and it would take a very particular kind of self-awareness to go against the grain. I would like my kids to be strong and confident in how they differ from others, so while I still won’t permit them to bring devices to school or to play-dates, I do encourage them to share what’s behind those requests and what their insecurities are so we can workshop them together. It has strengthened the bond between me and my oldest (she’s 12) and I think has deepened her trust in me as a parent. It’s tough because she already knows she’s different with two moms, and she’s proud of that and wants to be more normal at the same time. So it’s an open dialogue in our house. We want to make sure our kids don’t feel too ostracized while also encouraging them to feel good and empowered about their decisions.
Now I’ve gone on and on and on…. 🙂
I love that you went on and on! I was a gadgetless child. Heck, I was a fairly gadgetless adult, not getting a cell phone until 2001, which was pretty late in my circles.
I do believe in the value of devices, so establishing a literacy and comfort around them is important to me. I do want to avoid dependance, but also be realistic about life. Basically, for the time being we’re writing in pencil, not pen.
We certainly have nothing figured out yet. My 5th and 3rd graders have yet to ask for anything. They don’t have phones or iPods or instagrams accounts or the like..but have never asked. And have never sent a text. We do have a mobile phone that is our home phone for them to use to call me if they need me if I’m out – as we do leave them here and there. And Eloise has an email account to chat with friends – but she has to use my laptop and I get to read her emails. I guess I’m happy that it’s not a major need of theirs right now – and honestly none of their friends have devices/phone either – so much time yet for allthethings.
And something weird about me – as much as I am an online shopping and fashion addict – I hate Pinterest. I KNOW. So weird.
We left Sean’s phone with the girls once and they didn’t answer it. At all. It was awful, we thought they’d all perished. We ran home, after only being gone 30 minutes. They were fine. Big, slow blinks, “You called?”
And, Pinterest? I think I do it wrong, I only pin, going on the site makes me feel like I have a flat ass, squishy tummy, and piss poor centerpieces. <---hahahaha, center pieces, my table wouldn't know what was happening.
It is precisely this topic of social media + children that keeps me up at night (and I don’t even have kids, just terrified for when I do). How do I navigate something that I didn’t have as a child or teen? Especially something so, as you put it, dramatically irreversible. I’m always interested to see what parents think or decide in situations like this, because I have no idea. So thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I guess what I would attempt (or want to attempt) to do first is show my kids how permanent the internet is (nothing goes away, not even photos or texts/emails that seemed like a good idea at the time). I’d be more ok with letting my kid take an iPod on the bus than a cell phone, but I totally get your hesitancy… and I’m sure I will hesitate when the question comes up.
We just encountered an unexpected chat scenario on Sean’s iPad. A window popped up in a game. Our oldest called out, “What’s a bloke?” We came to find out that a person she messaged with called themself a bloke.
Screeching brakes. So all that progress I thought I’d made is gone.
I find the electronic device issue perplexing because devices serve so many purposes These days. For my eleven year old, it is her phone, book, walkman, video game console, type-writer etc. So, Setting screen time boundaries is hard. I also feel like there is passive screen time and active screen time- the two are not created equal.
I completely agree.
Having a Kindergartener, we’ve yet to reach this fork in the road, but I know it’s coming. I was totally taken aback (naive?) in learning that most of the fourth and fifth graders in her elementary school have smartphones. Actually, my gut reaction was that I was sad, though I can’t exactly understand why. I was thinking we’d get to at least middle school before this became so thorny, and, maybe we will. Technology is not going away and I want her to be responsible with it. She’s not really interested at this point except using my phone to take silly pictures of herself or her dolls. I will be looking to parents like you when our time comes for making these kinds of technology-in-public decisions and seeing how you handled it.
Ha! No pressure, right?
Have not figured things out at all. As you point out, things keep changing–the technology, their curiosities, etc.
I loved how delighted your girls were by Pinterest. It was such a sweet excitement.
And seriously–this magazine look of your site is just so nice to look at.
This is the conundrum of our generation of mothers, I think. After the debate about breast milk or bottle, it’s device or not.
I facilitated a workshop about data and privacy several years ago, and it made me join Facebook and Twitter and start blogging and plunge into the digital world because I realized if I wasn’t tracking on it, my kids would surpass me. (They still will, but it might take longer.) This same workshop also terrified me, because I learned how much data and information gets shared without our knowing it, and the potential dangers of this. Let alone the dangers of what our kids see and learn, it’s also who can see and learn about them.
And yet if we don’t let them interact with it, they won’t develop the awareness or the skill set that allows them to thrive in the ubiquitous digital world, which is the centerpiece of their professional and personal endeavors to come. So like the others who’ve commented above, it seems to be about striking a balance.
I’m not sure I’m doing it right or wrong. Sometimes I think I should let them have more screen time. Sometimes I think I don’t let them have enough. When you look at the way our society dis-encourages (my daughter’s word, not mine) girls to go into STEM subjects, one of the many reasons is boys usually get more screen time. So then I think, I should put those girls on the computer more. Until I see them simply watching LPS videos…
Having said that I’ve sat down and set up a Tumblr with each of them, and they are allowed to post, but I have to help. At least for now. The Pinterest idea is brilliant. I may take a page from your book on that.
The most important thing, I think, is to be honest with them about the upsides and downsides to screen time and the useful, helpful, interesting, addictive, hurtful and dangerous internet that lurks beneath those devices. Without frightening them, but informing them. I keep telling them not to be scared, just to be smart. If only I knew how to keep from being scared myself.
I love that you are letting them explore Pintest. That is really awesome.
It isn’t that I’m anti-technology for kids, my daughter has her own tablet and spends a lot of time using for both educational purposes and fun. But I don’t understand kids taking electronics to school, especially elementary aged children. It just sounds like a recipe for disaster – theft or brokenness – to me. When I was a kid (oh my gosh, I’m old, and maybe just one good “walking uphill in the snow both ways” story away from a retirement home) we weren’t allowed to bring walkmans or gameboys to school, and this doesn’t seem much different to me. I just don’t think school is the place for electronic devices like this.