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Parenting the Smartphone Generation: The Device is Yours

Parenting the Smartphone Generation: The Device is Yours

“We talked about this,” Beth said, taking a deep breath.  Madison just stood in her bedroom doorway, incredulous.  “But…but…you can’t take away my phone!” she stated, as if this truth should be obvious.

“It’s not your phone, Madison,” Beth replied, trying to remain calm.  “I bought that phone for you.  You didn’t live up to our agreement, so I’m taking your phone until your grades improve.”

“But you can’t take away my phone!” Madison repeated, her voice escalating as the tears threatened.  “I’ve got to have it!”

“What you need to have,” Beth countered, “are better grades.  We talked about this a month ago.  I’ve been watching your progress and there isn’t much.  You’re spending too much time on your phone and not enough time on your schoolwork.”

Madison immediately switched into negotiation mode.  “I’ll do better.  I promise!”

“You are going to do better,” Beth assured her, “and to help you do better, I’ll be taking your phone for the next two weeks.”  Beth put out her right hand, palm up. 

“What if I don’t give it to you?” Madison snapped back.  Beth was ready for this, and she replied, “then I’ll just have to turn off the service.”

“What if I sign up with another company?”  Clearly, Madison had thought about this.  “You’re fourteen years old, Madison.  No company is going to sign you up.  Just give me the phone.”  Please just give me the phone!  Beth thought to herself, though she presented no outward distress to Madison.  Reluctantly, wailing that Beth was being so unfair, Madison reached into her pocket and turned over the phone. 

“We’ll evaluate in two weeks and see how you’re doing,” Beth promised, as Madison turned her back and stomped into her room.  It was going to be a long two weeks. 

This scenario doesn’t just play out for girls.  Try taking a video game system away from a fourteen-year-old-boy (and forbidding him to play at a friend’s house — you have to be multiple steps ahead).  Kids, teens especially, develop a strong attachment to their technology.  The device becomes primary and you become secondary.  The device now belongs to them.  Besides, they’re not even sure you know how to use it!  It’s a running joke that if an adult has a problem with a piece of technology, he or she just needs to ask the nearest eight-year-old. 

Kids are comfortable around technology.  Have you ever seen one of them read an instruction manual with a new device or game?  Instead, they use the device to learn how to use the device.  They talk with their friends and share tips and tricks.  If they get stuck, they go to YouTube to find a fix.  They spend time getting to know the device, pushing buttons and clicking options, just to see where each takes them.  They’re fearless.  Why shouldn’t they be?  They didn’t but it! 

I found in my own household that mastery over a device equates in young minds to ownership.  In their minds, the true owner of the device is not the person who bought it; the true owner of the device is the person who knows best how to use it.  This is a subtle distinction but one that I’ve found is prevalent with kids and technology.  If you want to know if one of your children has become attached to a piece of technology, try taking that technology away. 

Your children may view that cell phone or game console or tablet like a part of themselves, but you are still the parent.  Even if you didn’t buy the device, that device is in your home and under your authority.  You may not understand how to use it, but your children still need to obey you where that device is concerned.  This Biblical admonition may have been written millennia ago, but it is still in effect today: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).

For more information on how to talk with your children about technology, implement ground rules for its use, and also practice what you preach, see Dr. Jantz’s new mini-book, Ten Tips for Parenting the Smartphone Generation.

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