Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Smartphones, communication, and empowerment


I got home from work and checked on my kids, conversed if I could, figured out what I wanted to do for dinner, started it, and then I plopped down on my couch and started looking though people's insta stories. I love them, I'll admit it. Two people had referred to this conversation that was going on with the hashtag #savethekids, so I decided to go check it out.

Here's the base... a teacher asked a question to their middle school students, or Junior High I guess, "What my parents don't know about social media is..." the answeres were anonymous and some of them scary. Believe me when I say, if the answers don't scare you then you live in a bubble that I'd like to be a part of. Either way, this starts up a conversation, that as far as I can tell, is lead by an awesome insta guy named with the handle @collinkartchner ... he also did a series of stories where he talked about body image and comparing, my SIL shared it with me and it was a fantastic watch and conversation. With this particular #savethekids conversation they have some very valid points. Should elementary kids and junior high kids have smart phones? Should they be allowed in school? When is the appropriate age for a child to get a smart phone? Parents need to be the example of moderation with the smartphones...etc.

As I began to read the comments on his story such as, "I told some friends that I wasn't going to give my kids a smart phone and they laughed, well whose laughing now", "When my kids come home I'm taking their smartphone away #savethekids", "When I put my smartphone down I got better grades, smartphones have ruined mylife", "every parent needs to take their kids smartphones so that my child doesn't feel left out" and it goes on and on. I caught myself starting to feel guilt and some shame for allowing my kids to have a smartphone and knowing that I will continue to do so. Luckily for me, I pulled out of feeling that way. I have been having this type of conversation with many people who are close to me and I know where I stand on this issue. My kids get good grades, they are good kids, and we are all on this learning curve of how best to make smartphones work for us and not against us.

First off, no matter what I say, however you parent your child, if you are consistently trying with all that you have and arming yourself with all the tools and knowledge that you can... then you are winning and you will get no judgement from me. My opinion shouldn't change what you feel is right in your heart, just as your opinion won't change mine. I will listen and maybe it will actually make me go back to the drawing board, but I will continue to leave my parenting decisions up to my Father in Heaven, myself, and my husband.

So let's dig into this. Should elementary kids and junior high kids have smart phones? I believe that is soley up to you as the parent and what you feel is best for your individual child. You can't parent each child exactly the same because they are each unique. Their desires are different, which means your discipline tactics will effect them differently. My son LOVES hanging out with his friends, and to this day, that is the one thing that I can take away, for a time, that will help me in teaching him a lesson of consequence and right from wrong. With my daughter, it is her phone or her latest Netflix binge. Take that away, for a time, and she usually learns her lesson (no kid is perfect). You see, because taking friends away from my first child worked, I tried it on my second child...and they stayed home happy as a peach, could care less that they weren't hanging out with friends. Own individual desires.

Making sure they have boudaries and once those boundaries are crossed you implement consequences, now THAT is necessary. Granted, they are kids, human and therefore flawed, so they continue to test the boundaries.  We are consistent and vigilant in letting them know when they have crossed the line (admittedly, and thankfully, my husband is a very consistent person, me not as much, we when I say "we", in this case, I mean "him"... if he tells them to do something and gives them the consequence, if it isn't done then he will follow through with the consequence if the child chooses not to complete what was asked of them. Once or twice of proving that and my kids don't ever doubt that what we say is what we mean-which then allows them the choice, knowing a consequence will follow, they choose whether they want the good one or bad one).

Should smart phones be allowed in school? Nope. It's unneccesary. I don't know what the solution is to this, because after school I want to make sure they both have their phones so I can get in contact with them (I work outside of the home and this gives me peace of mind), but I can't think of a good reason for kids to have them on during school hours.

When is the appropriate age for your child to get a smart phone? Again, that is up to you as a parent and it is different for each child. Some children come out of the womb mature and logical and act years above their age in responsibility, other children just don't. Only YOU know your child and what they will be able to handle.

Here's my answer the smartphone panic... Communication. It has been taught for ages but is still neglected. Open communication with your child, even if sometimes what they have to say is something you'd rather not hear or may even scare you! Do it anyway. Take as many opportunities as you can to listen to them, like REALLY listen to them. Know them well enough to know when they are telling you the top layer of what is really going on inside, to test your reaction. So many times I would say just enough to see how my parent or spouse would react to something, if it seemed like it was going in a direction in which I would be punished, shamed, or made to feel what was going on in my mind was not normal, I would stop the conversation and divert it to something safer. I didn't trust I could say anything. I would hide the me on the inside and put on my shell of what made that person feel comfortable. Try not to do that. Listen to them, ask questions that are or could be uncomfortable for them our yourself, let them help to come up with solutions.  Let them know their feelings are normal, their curiosity is NORMAL. Give them support and tools to grow and progress and overcome. Kids are curious... pay attention to the questions they are asking. Ask them direct questions. Help them continue to talk. Be okay with the quiet in between, silence can be so powerful, don't try to push your opinion on them when they stop talking, and don't try to save them when they are saying something difficult to hear because it makes you feel something that you may not want to feel. I try to tell my kids, over and over again, in a mantra if possible, that there is NOTHING they can do that will make me love them any less. I will ALWAYS love them... but it is inevitable that they will disappoint me at some point...and we can both be okay with that!

My job is to help them through choices they make that may or already have brought about difficult consequences. We learn the tough lessons now... when I am here to help... so that they are prepared for life outside of mine and my husbands protection. Which includes dealing with a smartphone.

I have also made it known to my kids that when they open themselves up to tell me something they know they have done wrong, that I may not always react the correct way, but to be patient with me as we learn together.  They know, regardless of my reaction, that because they have chosen to be vulnerable and honest that things won't automatically be taken away from them. We discuss first and come up with a solution together. They know this, and I feel because they know that, it keeps the door open for them to talk to me about things that they know were wrong but they chose to do it anyway. Or just feelings they may be having about being inadequate or not good enough...I don't tell them NOT to feel that way, I listen and we talk about what we can do to help it. My goal is to assist them, so in my mind, I don't have the luxury to be ignorant or niave to what's out there.  For this smart phone conversation, if I take away their smart phone how does that solve access to the internet, media, or social media when I'm not around or don't know about it?

New flash: This is the world we live in, it is not going away... for now. :)

If they are curious, they will investigate. Just because I have taken it away or restricted it from them when they are around me, that doesn't mean they won't find other means to sate their curiosity!? This isn't new, kids are creative and intelligent, especially if they are curious about it! Just because my friends and myself didn't have smart phones, that didn't keep us from getting into trouble or stopped us looking at things I wasn't suppose to, it just meant we got it in different ways than our kids are getting it. We just didn't have up-to-the-minute access to knowing what everybody else has done or are doing like our kids do today!

What do we do? We teach our children right from wrong. We educated them on how consequences can affect them and their lives and we stay open to what they have to tell us and we give them plenty of opportunity to feel comfortable doing so and empower them to choose the harder right.

For example, when my son was about 6 or 7, I found out my son was at a friends house and through some kind of search for a game and an older brothers search history they came across photos that made him "feel something" on the computer. He knew it wasn't right because we had talked about it openly as a family, he knew what it was. He didn't tell me right away. He went to that friends again and this time they sought it out. Then he came home and my sister, by divine design, walked in on him just opening up the page as he was quickly trying to close it again. She came and told me. That is when I had a choice to decide how I was going to react to this. You guys... I was scared out of my mind! I wanted to go in there and shake him, take away the computer priveleges and wrap him in bubble wrap. But instead, I reached out to my Father in Heaven, asked him to help me out, and went to my son.

He was crying, his face was streaked with tears and dirt from his hands wiping them away, he was scared and you could see his shame right on his face. I grabbed him and hugged him. He said, "I'm sorry", I said, "I can see that". I then had a discussion with him. I asked him questions like, Why? How did it make you feel? Do you feel like doing it again? Do you understand why this isn't a good choice? I let him know that he was normal. Those pictures are made to make you feel that way. I let him know the people in the photos are real, they have a family. I educated him on what path this COULD lead him down. We watched a video of someone's dark consequences that started out innocent like him, and then I did something that I have kept to from that day forward, which changed something in me and my parenting from that day forward...I let him choose.

Here is how it went,  I said, "Now this is where you get to make a choice. Do you want to invite that and possibly those consequences that we just watched into your life? You get to choose, but I get to know your choice. Also, if you choose that you don't want to go down that road and you feel like it's too hard not to look, then we can get you the tools to help with that. Either way, you choose, there is a right choice and wrong choice, but you have the power to choose." Now, I don't know if that is the right way or wrong way to handle that, however, it is what gave me peace in my heart. Conclusion: he told me he didn't like how he was feeling and never wanted to feel that way again. We moved forward that day with my son knowing he could trust me and that we were on the same team. I also understood I needed to be more vigilant in educating myself, as well as, my children.

This is exactly the approach I take for smart phones. Education. Empowering them with the ability to choose for themselves after being educated. Not restriction. That just isn't how I do it and it works for us. I make sure to keep up on all social media apps, I participate in them, I get all the updates on them. I educate myself on how children are hiding apps, how to get messages they have deleted, and what is the next best app. I'm not perfect, but I try and I leave the rest in my Father in Heaven's hands and mother's intuition.

I educate my kids on consequences. Ask my daughter how many stories and videos she has had to watch on predators that can get to you on FB, insta, snap, and games, to name a few, and what has happened to people who have let them in. I, in great detail and to my daughters embarrassment, describe what those predators want and can do to her not just mentally and emotionally, but physically. I show them snap websites dedicated to pictures that were hacked from servers that people thought "disappeared". They are aware that EVERYTHING they send CAN be retrieved from a server, even years later. Anything put on the internet is stored and saved somewhere.

Then they are empowered with choice because they know what follows the choices available to them.


Restricting them or keeping them away from it isn't what works for us (meaning my family). Remember that friend that couldn't eat candy at their home so when they came over to your house to play, all they did was eat your candy!? When I was young we were too poor to afford a computer or game console, I was probably 7 turning 8. Guess what I did? Everytime I went over to my friends that had an Atari, all I wanted to do was play Atari. Everytime I went over to my friends that had an apple computer (one of the first made I think) I wanted to play Family Fued for HOURS. Those friends would get bored with it and beg me to do other things, which I would, but the minute I could get them to play the Atari or Family Fued again, that's what I would want to do. I craved it because I didn't have it. My kids' friends that don't have smartphones? Always asking to use my kids phones. (We have talked about them not allowing a friend to use their smartphone if there parent isn't allowing it.)

The worst thing I can think of is to send my children out into the world unprepared with the bombardment that comes when they finally are able to choose for themselves to have a smart phone. I want them to learn while they are under my roof so we can monitor it together. Heck, I'm still learning how to moderate myself! My kids are required to turn in their phones at night where they charge and are ready for them the next day. I have access to get on their phones where I can, and do, look at text, snaps, DM's, photos, etc... they know that at any time I can ask for their phone they have to give it to me.

We keep trying to incorporate practices that will help us all. Things such as:

*If you are with someone and there is a sliver of chance that there might be a conversation that will involve your participation, put the phone away. There is nothing on the phone that needs your immediate attention. Are any of us in my family perfect at that... no... but we are aware and will remind, "catch", each other not applying the practice.

*If you are having a difficult time putting the phone away because you keep reaching for it... put it in another room where you have to physically get up and get it to look at it.

*I know a neighbor who has an app on their phone that monitors everything their kids do on phones or tablets and can instantly turn things off once that child has used the allotted amount of screen time for the day. I think that's fabulous! Help them be aware of time on their device.

That is the key, keeping trying, keep learning, and pray daily to get extra help and intuition from above. Help them while you have the power to, while they live under your roof. Prepare them for when they live out there in a world that will and can overpower them with information and things that are pleasurable, but addicting.  If they haven't been given the tools necessary to combat everything thrown at them, they will fall to the addicting nature of what is accessible on a smartphone, whether they are 10 or 40.

Be the educated parent for each individual child and then do what you feel is right when it comes to smart phones. Join the conversation, tell me what you do, but leave judgement behind for other parents and their kids.  We are all fighting to do our very best to bring about children that are good humans. Do some parents totally suck? Heck yes... but I believe that the majority of parents are doing the best they can with what they know.

That's my two cents.

Whatever you do to protect your child you will have me cheering you on! :) Now let's all go to dinner and group hug!

2 comments:

Barbaloot said...

How have I missed that you're still blogging?! Glad I saw your post on fb, and now I am back on the blokthoughts train:)

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

Hey girl!!! I saw a picture of you the other day on FB and you were with Liz Carter who happens to be a sister to my good friends Carrie and Ben Carter! Small world! I just started writing again... I usually don’t post this often but I felt motivated to write today! ;)

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