If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that everyone’s got opinions about kids and their screens.
As the mom of a tween, this is especially in my face right now, and it’s a workout trying to figure out how to handle it, honestly. My kid has a phone, and it’s so tiring to be constantly comparing our family to other families, our tween to her peers, plus everyone on the internet. Factor in that my husband and I don’t even always agree on the screen rules, and it’s enough to make you throw up your hands and say “DO WHATEVER YOU WANT! I CAN’T WORRY ABOUT THIS ANYMORE!” But, as we all know, that’s not an option. So worry about it we shall.
Before I go any further, you should know one thing about me: I tend to be uptight about screens. It’s true. I have a bad attitude about kids with their noses in phones all day long. I know I’m not alone; but I also know that everyone doesn’t agree with me, and that’s fine, actually. Which brings me to my first thought:
What works for my kid might not work for yours, and vice versa.
I have spent a fair amount of time worrying that my kid won’t be accepted by her peers if she doesn’t have the same access that they do to their phones, and I’m here to tell you that’s a lost cause. Kids are all different, and as such, their restrictions and privileges should match up with their individual needs, not the neighbor kids’. It’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, when their rules are different than their friends – and it may mean at times you are not considered a cool mom, just a regular mom. Oh well? Do what works for you, for your family, for your child. Adjust as they grow and change. There is no blanket set of instructions that will be a perfect fit for every child.
Even responsible kids make mistakes, and may need restrictions.
Don’t ask me how I know, but even kids who are responsible and follow the rules will one day realize that you can’t police every aspect of their phone usage, and will try to take advantage of that fact. Kids do not have the brain development to understand these consequences yet. As frustrating as that is for us, they are going to make mistakes. Phones and social media create an imaginary wall between our kids and the people they talk to; it doesn’t feel the same to them as speaking face to face, so they are more likely to act out of character. This is, unfortunately, normal – and even the best kid can get caught up in something gross, given the opportunity, and the opportunities are ample. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch them before their mistakes have any major external consequences, and they can learn those first lessons in the safety of their parental relationship.
Give kids ownership over their guidelines, when you can.
This summer, for example, I had my daughter come up with phone guidelines she felt were fair for her summer days. I actually ended up having to loosen her restrictions (ha!) but this way it wasn’t all on me to police her – she has some ownership in it, too. That doesn’t mean it always goes according to plan, but it has worked well for us.
Now here’s where I get really uptight… Social Media.
Social Media increases already intense social pressures.
I hate that our elementary and early middle schoolers have social media. They go to school all day and worry about how they look and if their voice cracked in music and if anyone heard them fart in math, and it’s exhausting. Then we send them home with phones and, without any restriction, they never get to shut off that part of their brain! I think about how as an adult woman it is so easy to get my feelings hurt when I see a social gathering on Instagram I wasn’t included in, and then I remember how difficult 8th grade was without that added pressure, and it makes me want to weep for our kids. Remember when you could just stay home on a Saturday and not worry about what other people were doing because you had no idea?! Me either. I don’t know the exact science, but I know that for my kid, when there was less restriction on her phone usage, her stress was through the roof. She was constantly trying to keep up with group chats and not miss out on anything, and it was not good for her. She has very limited social media – almost none – and some days it still feels like too much.
Right now, while she is not permitted any of the major social medias (much to her chagrin, also not without occasional typed-up letters trying to convince us) we are talking about balance. We are talking about posting and consequences and kindness. It’s not easy for her to understand always, because she is young. So we keep talking about it. We keep explaining the reasons why we don’t think she’s ready for social medias, reasons why we don’t think it’s healthy for her. We’re honest, and it all creates opportunities for discussions that, I hope, stick with her when one day, we finally crack and let her have Instagram or whatever.
At the end of the day, it’s about balance.
As an Uptight Mom, I am fairly restrictive about where we take phones or screens. I often don’t let her bring it to dinner with our family, or to a baby shower, or to a barbecue – or anywhere I hope she’ll interact with the people around her. The call is strong, and I know she doesn’t yet have the boundaries or self-awareness to not be filming videos of her hitting the whoa in the middle of a party if she has her phone on her. Sometimes that means other kids have their phones, and I get an earful about how unfair life is… but I’d still rather her be able to spend 3 hours interacting with people than feel like everything is fair. Sorry, kiddo.
At the same time, I am not naive about the world we live in. Screens have their place. While I don’t want her using a phone at school, I want her to be able to call home if there’s an emergency and we can’t get to her. While I’d rather she play with her friends when she goes to the park or to their houses, I want her to be able to call me if she is put in a situation that makes her uncomfortable. I also love the ease of her being able to let me know what she’s doing, and being able to text her to tell her I’ll be outside to get her in 3 minutes.
And so: Balance. Also: Releasing some control. I can’t control everything. I check her phone regularly, and keep her on task if a video distracts her from what she’s supposed to be doing, but overall I am trying to trust my daughter, as she has earned it. I am also trying to make myself available to discuss difficult or stressful situations she finds herself in when she comes to me – which, because of that trust, she does.
In conclusion: figure out what’s best for your kid and your family when it comes to screens.
I am not an expert on screens – just a mom, figuring out how to raise a healthy and happy kid in a modern world, just like all of us. I have made 10,000 mistakes, and that’s how I came to the thoughts I have above. Trial and a lot of error. I still don’t love it. I wish that summer was all bike rides and playing outside until the streetlights came on, but it’s not. So instead of having a bad attitude, I’m working on finding balance, and figuring out what works for my girl.
At the end of the day, that’s the best I can do. And I’ll keep doing my best, through what I can only imagine will be many more years, trials, and errors.