Teachable Moment: Outsmarting Smartphones!
You couldn't pay me to be a tween or teenager in this era. I will age myself by saying this, but I am glad I grew up in a time when you only had Saturday morning cartoons for 2 hours, and the TV went out at midnight with the national anthem signing off til morning. A time when you found your friends based on a mountain of bikes huddled at a park or someone’s driveway across town. I helped chaperone a birthday party for 14 tweens recently, for a birthday girl who was turning 12. The girls were hanging out to watch movies and eat junk food. You can imagine no one watched the movie and all the junk food was gone in a matter of moments. For the most part the “drama” was low for a room full of raging prepubescent females, and there was no shortage of screams and giggles. There was also no shortage of comparing Facebook, Instagram, and status updates. The only squabble was an Instagram post that innocently missed a few girls in the screen. Subsequently they demanded a retake and repost of the entire group. “It’s not fair to be left off and not tagged appropriately” one of the girls demanded! As I surveyed the room more than half were texting or fiddling with their smart phones (not a single flip phone in the bunch!) even texting “secrets” to each other from across the room. After the fourth tattle-tale came to me expressing her fury around girls texting their so-called boyfriends and not hanging out, I decided to intervene. I grabbed a basket and proceeded to confiscate the iPhones for the remainder of the party. I collected 12 iPhones and one iTouch. Of the 14 gals at the party, only one did not have a cell or electronic device….and that was my daughter. This is not to boast, as at times I have felt insecure from parents shaming me for not providing my child a phone for “safety” reasons, (this is complete BS if you ask me!) but my husband and I have been pretty clear on our position on smart phones. (We have learned from experience the risk involved in our kids accessing misinformation. Not to mention the cost, responsibility around damage and loss, and the idea of receiving and sending out inappropriate pictures…but that is an entirely separate blog post to look forward to!) I digress, back to the shocking look on my daughter’s face which was initially out of pure embarrassment. Admitting she had nothing to add to the basket, then a brave and emphatic “why play with my phone when I am with my best friends” fell off her lips. I cried a little inside, then quickly had to manage crowd control over the cries and stink-eyes glaring back at me. One gal actually said “I can’t be without my iPhone my parents will be upset if they can’t find me” to which I responded with the same stink eye and a playful "be a good sport and give up the phone.”
Lesson Learned: The first maybe 1 minute 30 seconds after taking the phones away were painful, only because they resented me. After that fun and frolicking ensued and the kids sat together and played games! I rounded up 10 of the 14 girls to play a simple game resembling the old classic, telephone, around the dining room table. Laughter results and memories began to blossom around me, and not one of the girls asked for their phone before their parents picked them up. While I am a very progressive individual and parent for the most part, I am incredibly nostalgic and wistful about living in the moment. I find sheer joy in savoring friendships and building memories. In this age of social media and technology kids are less likely (as are adults) to pick up the phone to call someone. Instead, they look at Facebook to see where people are “checking in” in order to find their friends. I challenge all parents to help their child build healthy boundaries around social media and use it for good and purposeful activities. It can be as simple as throwing electronics in a basket for an hour at a time, but more importantly it is our job as parents to engage with them and model those crucial social skills to build healthy friendships with their peers. If nothing else, I guarantee you will minimize hurt feelings, addictions to social nonsense, and bullying with the simple notion of putting the smart phone down. If you too have your smartphone in your hand and are posting every last move you could use a breather as well. So take the plunge together!
For more information on building healthy boundaries around social media and smartphone use for parents and teens visit: