Navigating the Waters of Parenting and Technology

phoneWe gave our teenage son a smartphone. At first, I felt nearly as guilty about this decision as I did when we caved on an earlier parental conviction and gave our infant son a pacifier. As it turned out, the pacifier was no evil nemesis in our household. It was in fact a valuable and very manageable device. I’d made control of the pacifier a bigger deal in my mind than it ever was in real life.

But technology and handing over a smartphone to a kid seemed the ultimate indulgence. Over the years we’ve refused to buy iPod Touch devices for our kids because of the expense. “Would you let a 10-year-old run around with $200 in his pocket?” the hubs would ask. Our answer was no and thus, no iPod as it seemed no different and potentially worse, since it’s also like putting a potentially addictive device with access to all the evils of the world wide web into the palm of a child’s hand.

The difficulty associated with monitoring Internet usage is the main reason we chose not to replace the first version iPad we sold back to Target last year. It was just too easy for our youngest to slip away with it and later be found watching YouTube videos or Netflix. All perfectly acceptable programming as far as I could tell, but I just didn’t like hunting him down while worrying what he might encounter online. I prefer he go online in our kitchen at the desktop computer with its large monitor. No kid would dare click anything curious in that location and this brings me greater peace than trying to block websites or install special filters on a shared device.

Now back to the smartphone and what led to the green light on this piece of technology. First, it’s for our older son who is 14 and has demonstrated a high level of responsibility. Second, cell phone companies seem to price their plans in ways that discourage continued use of talk and text only phones. We were paying nearly the same monthly amount for his antiquated “dumb” phone on our plan with no added benefits. Third, he is becoming busier with sports and activities and we prefer he manage his own calendar and email, which is most easily done on a smartphone. And don’t underestimate the peace of mind the find my iPhone feature can give to protective (okay maybe stalkerish helicopter) parents.

The new phone does have parameters. In fact, we printed
Janell Burley Hofmann’s clever list of 18 smartphone rules and keep it posted on the refrigerator. Her list is terrific for continuing what should be an ongoing conversation with kids about using technology responsibly. In fact, we should all be wary of how easily our connected lives can run amok. For Relevant Magazine’s six tips on being intentional with technology, click here. Or check out my friend
Nina Badzin’s blog series about her quest to end her smartphone compulsions.

So far, so good at our house. I’m praying we’ll be as relieved about this decision as we were about the pacifier. Because as parents, we’ve come to realize that clear boundaries, consistency and open communication can often assuage our fears of over-indulgence.