Experimental or intentional, how do you parent as it relates to technology?

Experimental parenting – words we have used to describe how we’ve parented our oldest child.  He’s (almost) 12 now and it’s true in many ways.  Christmas day 2005, he was 3 days old, 9.5 pounds, and the sweetest thing we’d ever seen.  We brought him home and settled in to spend a quiet afternoon exchanging gifts and staring in awe at this amazing baby boy that was part me and part Michael.  We put him in his brand new swing, tucked blankets around him, turned on the built-in mobile of plush neutral colored animals, and set the swing to gently move back and forth.  And then we remembered that this was no ordinary swing, it was new and had all the bells and whistles and could swing side to side too.  So we tried this side to side swinging feature…and then our sweet baby threw up.  Experimental parenting lesson #1 of many: don’t make your newborn “swing” sick.

5 years, a move halfway across the country, and two more babies later I was hosting a playdate with another mom and her two kids when the subject turned to meals.   How did she handle meals, I had inquired.  We were trying different ways of motivating our kids to eat healthy, to eat what I had cooked, and to try new things.  There were the “everyone likes spaghetti” nights that everyone was required to eat, the “only mom and dad eat chili” nights where mac n cheese or chicken nuggets were prepared as an alternative.  There were the “no one wants to try pot roast” nights with complaining and tears and frustration because it’s just pot roast and those are just carrots and you like potatoes in the form of French fries, so everyone needs to try it and that’s all your getting.  There was dessert bribery, substitutions of deli meat and cheese sticks and fruit, whining, food “accidently” dropped to the floor, pork chops disguised as chicken, and general frustration.  There was the daily decision of how we were going to handle dinner.  And then there was my friend’s answer, “We decided from the beginning.  I make one meal and that’s what everyone eats.  If they choose not to eat it, then they eat again at breakfast.  It’s their choice.”

I don’t remember my exact response, but it was something along the lines of, “What?  Really?  What about chili night or taco night or pulled pork sandwich night?”

“It doesn’t matter.  They know no difference because it’s always been this way.  They eat most things, but when they choose not to, they are fine until breakfast.”

This was intentional parenting, not experimental parenting.  I was in awe.  They thought ahead of time about what meal-time would be like in their home, made a decision and stuck with it. 

What would dinnertime look like today if we’d been intentional from the beginning?  There’s no way to know. 

Having learned that lesson, where are we trying to be intentional?  Technology!  Because while I have learned to deal with the battle over green beans, I desire to avoid the battle over “Why can’t I get a smartphone or an Instagram account or my own email address?”   We are the first generation of parents parenting in a world with hand held computers, social media, and instantaneous access to unlimited information.  Being intentional is paramount.

Every family is different and every child is different and being intentional doesn’t mean that you are doing the same thing as other parents.  It means you’ve thought about it, made decisions, and are sticking with those decisions.  It means your kids know what to expect and that negotiating and whining isn’t going to sway you.   As the first generation of parents who are faced with defining the technology culture of our homes as it relates to smartphones, here are some things to consider:

  • What age will your child get a phone?
  • Will it be a full fledged smartphone or an alternative (like Yip Yap)?
  • Who pays for the phone and service?
  • What access will you (the parent) have to the phone, passwords and the installed apps?
  • What apps are allowed and not allowed, and how will you manage it?
  • Are there screen free areas and times in your home?
  • What happens if the phone is lost or broken?
  • What constitutes inappropriate use of the phone?
  • What are the consequences of inappropriate use?

These are questions that ideally are considered well in advance of a child getting their first cell-phone so that parents can set expectations when the inevitable question, “Can I have a phone?” is asked.

Our oldest child is about to turn 12 and while he still won’t eat green beans, he doesn’t ask about when he’ll get a cell phone.  He uses an old iPhone with the Yip Yap Kids app and is able to make and receive WiFi calls within a network that I have defined.  He has his favorite music, a few games, and a changing selection of YouTube videos that I manage.  For now, it’s enough for him.  We are giving him the opportunity to succeed with mobile technology without the freedom to fail.  There will be a day when he has a networked cellphone on our already expensive wireless bill, but he understands that he doesn’t NEED that today and when he does receive one, the expectation of parental visibility and control has already long been set. 

 

Do you desire to parent more intentionally when it comes to technology?  It's not to late to start!


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