Parenting Insight in the Era of Phones and Technology
By Stephen C. Schultz
The tears were running down her cheeks and dropping to the floor like small raindrops. There wasn’t the sudden heavy sobbing that accompanies truly despondent news, but there was some silent shallow breathing and the recognizable blurry vision that comes from the eyes slowly welling up with tears.
I stepped around the counter in the kitchen and asked my 16 year old daughter what was wrong. She was obviously in some distress. Like most teens, she simply stated;
So, I pursued it a little more;
“Come on hon…what’s the matter? Obviously, something is bothering you.”
“Nothing…really. It’s stupid.”
She eventually opened up and confided in me. It was some pretty normal teenage drama that most parents have seen and experienced many times throughout their lives, but to the teens it is new. I asked a few questions that included the old journalist mantra of “Who?, What?, Where?, When? and Why?”
During her explanation of the situation, she continued to mention how she had “Spoken” to her friend Gabbi. She continued to reference their conversations. I finally asked her;
“So, you spoke to Gabbi?”
“Yes”, she said.
“You called her on the phone and had an actual conversation? You heard her voice and the two of you spoke?”
With a crinkled brow and a heavy sigh, she responded;
“Well…no…we texted each other. “
This may not seem like a big deal. In fact, I would bet that almost all teenagers and the majority of adults have probably been in similar situations. It’s just how society is now days. Communication is such an important aspect of relationships and very few people actually understand the importance of eye contact, non verbal ques and body language.
This was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. You see, this was the culmination of many conversations about appropriate use of the phone. The disengagement from family, the constant social media activity, the bells and chimes and noises that constantly required attention from her. It was becoming obvious that the “phone” was impacting my daughter in a negative way. It was apparent that the illusion of relationships was affecting her actual relationships in a negative way.
My wife had been diligently trying to keep up with the latest “Apps”, but quickly found herself in a continuous cycle of “Cops & Robbers”, always one step behind the latest technological advance. It had grown, over time, into a situation where our teenage daughter was living a separate life in our home and communicating with others who we had no idea who they were, many from around the country.
Now, before you think we are “Over-Protective” or “Helicopter Parents”, I simply want to point out the difference before the smart phone. Remember the days of the family phone being in the kitchen on the wall. It had that big long cord so you could step around the corner and have some perceived privacy. When someone called you, it could be anyone in the family that answered. Then there would be the loud call out to whoever was wanted on the phone. If your parents answered, they usually knew who the other kid was and even the other child’s parents. When you spoke on the phone, usually there were others around and you simply accepted the fact that conversations were rarely private. Not so today!
So, after a conversation with my wife, we decided to switch our daughter’s phone to a “Flip Phone”. We anticipated a fight and temper tantrum. We thought for sure there would be the typical accusations of what bad parents we are and how no other kids will talk with her now. How she will lose all of her friends and live a torturous life the rest of her days with her parents.
Well, it did not happen. She actually accepted the change pretty well. My wife took her to the store and let her pick out the style and model she wanted. She spent some time figuring out how it worked and has actually received some positive feedback from friends because she has the “cool retro” phone. She randomly mentioned to me the other day that she actually “spoke” to Gabbi. She can call and text, but she has no internet access or social media accounts anymore. And do you know what, she doesn’t seem to mind. She has re-engaged in the family and has expressed that she is glad the change was made.
I happened to be in a Sunday School class a couple of weeks ago. The topic of technology came up and there was some conversation around how valuable tech is today and how it has added to many positive aspects of personal life as well as business. A young father mentioned how technology is a “Tool” to be used and the sooner we can help our children learn how to use the tool, and do so responsibly, the better. We see this attitude and perception in elementary schools. We see parents giving tablets to babies in strollers and handing phones to kids in car seats while driving. As this conversation was happening, I had this nagging thought that I simply needed to express.
Yes, technology is a tool. Yes, it brings a lot of good to the lives of many. Yes, it is the way of the future and we need to embrace the positive aspects of technology. However, as with every tool, adult wisdom and supervision is also needed. There needs to be teaching and mentoring that takes place. As a child, I had those wooden blocks that you would pound through the appropriate hole with a little wooden hammer. It taught me fine motor skills and coordination. It helped me know what to do when I used a real hammer to nail boards together to build a bike ramp and a go cart. While my father had a table saw, I used a cross cut hand saw.
My family history is that of loggers in the Northwest. There were many tools being used to harvest timber during the early 20th century. New tool technology came about to revolutionize the work they were doing. However, there was wisdom in not giving an eight year old a chain saw.
Just because we as adults think that smart phones and other technological advances are great tools, does not mean that they are appropriate for all age groups. It takes insight, wisdom, determination and a commitment to healthy relationships to help teens and children navigate the waters of new and exciting future technology.
Below are three articles that I hope are helpful. A simple internet search will bring up much more information, articles and research if you are interested.
Teenagers and Technology Article from UK
Technology and teenagers Article from Australia
If you find yourself in a position where the technology use is chronically out of control, where anger outbursts are common when use is restricted, or sneaking and lying is more the norm, it may be time to seek professional help. If your parental “Gut Feeling” tells you some kind of intervention is needed, then Residential Treatment Centers, or RTC’s can sometime be a good option.
I’m interested to know if you have had similar interactions with your teen. Am I making a bigger deal out of this than I need to or is there some truth to my concerns? Please share so others can gain some perspective on this much needed societal conversation.