My husband Mark and I are dinosaurs. Not only are we raising teens in our mid-50’s, we are also extremely slow to let smart phones enter the lives of our children. Our grown sons know of our technology lag – it was a source of conflict in our home during their teenage years. Smart phones just weren’t the particular issue as they weren’t mainstream at that time.
But it is time to take the plunge with our older daughter. I told her, “We are on the Bill Gates plan.” I understand that he didn’t allow his kids to have smart phones until they were 14. Sometimes my girls are a bit embarrassed by their flip phones, but I have suggested that when they are teased to respond, "it is vintage."
Recently, our girls’ middle school invited Laura Tierney of The Social Institute to speak to a room full of parents on the topic of navigating the social media world. There were many emotions in that room – frustration, fear, anger, overwhelm, and maybe a tinge of excitement. I loved Laura’s advice. I paraphrase her words: “Don’t let your children have smart phones until you have the energy to teach, engage, and be an integral part of this dynamic.” That energy has been lacking in our home, but this summer we made a commitment and are making space to do our part. Tierney didn’t need to remind us, but her empathy for the fact that this is a tough job since we as parents are way behind the technology curve in general. Our kids are digitally native, and we are not.
This presentation was a breath of fresh air on a topic that can so often be full of doom and gloom. The subtitle of my upcoming book is “A Parenting Journey from Fear to Freedom,” but I still sometimes have to talk myself off of the ledge of FEAR around all the things that can go wrong in the world of social media and teens. The Social Institute* is my go-to when I am feeling the fear creep back into my heart and mind.
While this institute certainly suggests that parents be involved as their children receive these miniature computers that practically become attached to their bodies, the focus is different than so much that I read on the topic. There is hope as well as an acceptance that a social media world is the one into which our children were born. Tierney suggested very practical and helpful information for parent participation around social media in three areas:
1. Stay positive
2. Set standards together
3. Huddle regularly
So this past weekend, my husband and I huddled in order to get our act together as we continue the conversations with our daughters and prepare to give one of them access to a smart phone. I know that there will be frustrations and bumps along this new journey, but regular communication around all of the different aspects of having such a big privilege and responsibility will be a critical piece of our pathway forward. It is on us as the grownups in the equation to do our best to communicate and educate around this topic.
I would love to hear any tips that you have for launching a child out into the world with a smart phone. Though I would rather not do this thing, I accept that this is a very real part of the world in which we all live. Heck, without social media, I wouldn’t have very many blog readers… Wish us well on this new journey.
*If you want to find out more about The Social Institute and some of the tools it offers to parents, visit them here.
PS We are getting familiar with an app called Qustodio that gives us real information on how much time and where our kids are spending time on their devices. It has opened our eyes and hopefully will lead to constructive guidance and I am sure a few arguments. We shall see...