What on earth is going on with our kids today? Is it too much technology, social media, negative peer influence, or cell phone use? I propose its all of the above. Of course, there are underlying issues that dictate a child’s behavior in school and at home. The home environment is very important, in fact, it’s crucial. Many kids today live in fragile home settings where the adults they live with are falling apart around them and no one is engaging with them at school or at home. Peers become the only source of outlet for what they can’t control at home. Many of these kids need to communicate and be heard. Technology has replaced parents and provided our kids with a forum.
Kids today are spending too much time connected to their phones, especially during school. Lately, it seems phone use is unrestricted in most class. Not because there isn’t a policy about it, but because school officials are becoming more and more lax about cellphone use in class.
In today’s class environment, a teacher can be at risk if he/she tries to take a cell phone from a student during class and to avoid any issues, they simply look the other way. Parents are disconnected from their kid’s school lives. They are in the dark about a lot of what is going on during class and are ill-equipped to help. This is a perilous proposition for all involved.
Back at home, when it comes to technology, we allow it, finance it, enable it, condone it even. In fact, we spend a good part of our time on our phones as well, not engaged. “But it’s business; I’m working,” yeah, yeah.
In many homes today both mom & dad work, many times kids are home without any parental supervision from roughly 3:00-6:30 p.m. That’s a whole lot of free time to spend using technology. In What’s the Message, I raised the question because unwittingly, we give our kids mixed messages; and when it comes to technology, messaging is very important.
It’s difficult when we lose control of our familial situation and if by high school, you don’t have a handle on the technology issue, you’ve lost control. Can you gain it back? The good news is YES, you can, but it won’t be easy. You must be prepared to stand firm. It doesn’t help to become adversarial with your kids and make rash decisions you aren’t going to stick to. Many times we lose our cool, we grab the phone and raise our voices. The kids storm off to their rooms, soon after, we start to feel that guilty nabbing and then proceed to walk the phone to their rooms and give it right back to them, in order stop the bleeding heart. Man do they have our number or what?
I raised 4 kids. Two are in their very late 20s and the other two in their very early 20s. There is a 6-year gap between the two sets of kids. Both groups are vastly different. There was no cell phones for them in elementary school, that was the first line drawn. My two oldest daughters are 11 months apart so they shared a cell phone through middle school, and into sophomore year in high school. The schedule was as follows, Kandice had the phone one day and Kristen had the phone the next day, and so on and so forth. Sunday was for mass and phones stayed home. After mass we had family time, either lunch with grandparents, bike riding at the park, afternoon at the beach or off to the movies to watch whatever new Disney flick was out. Also, in the early part of 2000, when my older girls were in middle school, technology did not offer a smidgen of what cell phones offer today.
One thing I learned early on starting with my two older daughters, was not to turn into some unapproachable hag they didn’t want to connect with. I tried to keep the lines of communications open with them at all stages of their lives, and today I enjoy the fruit of the seeds I planted. It wasn’t easy, cultivating those communications lines with my pre-teen and teens, but it was certainly a garden worth planting. While you don’t want to fight with the kids all the time, and choosing your battles is advised; when it comes to technology, setting down rules is an absolute must. Keep in mind that rules without enforcement aren’t rules at all.
If you don’t set rules and boundaries early on when it comes to technology use, you will surely lose the messaging. By their last year in middle school many of these teenagers are headed down a slippery slope to high school, many with no support netting. If you and your kids have not established strong communication lines by middle school, seek help if need be. Find ways to connect with them early on so that by the time middle and high school roll around, you are on a communication course that will help your child flourish instead of floundering.
My two youngest are 5 years apart and had phones at different stages. However, the phones came with caveats and house rules. After all, I paid for the phone and the service, technically it was MY phone, and we were all clear on that. Whose phone is this? Mom’s phone, they chimed in. If any of them wanted unfettered use of the phone, I recommended they get an after-school job and pay for the phone bill themselves. It was simple, follow the rules or lose phone privileges.
On one occasion during his freshman year in high school, my son’s phone got taken away from him by his teacher, because he pulled it out during class. The only way to get it back was for me to come to school, during school hours and retrieve the phone. I worked, therefore the phone was in the teacher’s possession for three days, until I was able to get out of work early enough to drive to the school to pick up my son and sign for the phone. When I arrived at his class, I told my son, in front of his teacher, let this be the first and last time, I have to come to school to sign out your phone. “Next time, I told her, you can keep the phone.” He never pulled the phone out of his book bag during class again. He apologized to me in the car about making me leave work to come and deal with the phone situation and we talked about rules and consequences for breaking those rules. We also talked about how rude it was for him to have his phone out while his teacher was trying to teach her class, and I suggested he apologize to her as well. Support your teen’s teachers and let them know at the open house, you authorize them to confiscate phones if used during class without permission. You should also provide the teachers contact information so that they can reach you to discuss any issues. If your child’s teacher knows you are an engaged parent, your child will benefit from that. Let your child hear you say that, so he/she understand it’s a team effort. No arguing or fighting, just real-life consequences for bad behavior.
In our house, by 10:00 p.m., phones were collected and kept in my bedroom “charging” to be retrieved only in the morning before leaving for school. There was no bending on that rule and they knew it. There was another little formality discussed on the day the phone was purchased, I set the passcode; they did not change it. For my kids, this worked out well, and it started long before they got to high school. I never really checked their phones. They knew I could access the phone at any time, so they didn’t do anything they didn’t want me finding out about on their phones. This whole privacy concept related to our kids and technology is utter nonsense. Don’t buy into that.
Make no mistake about it, our kids want to talk to us and share their lives with us, but we must be engaged and mindful of our reactions to what they share. In other words, hard as it may be, try not to gasp at what they are talking about or overreact, that is really important. Ask questions and provide guidance when their understanding of an event or issue may have them at a loss.
School is not the place where kids learn important life lessons. It’s not supposed to be. A school is a place where our kids learn to read, write and do arithmetic; and we are failing there too, but that’s another article. In school, kids make friends and learn to socialize with each other.
Home is where our kids learn about love, respect, civility, communicating, truth, compassion, consequences, responsibility, acceptance, and gratitude. If we do not teach our kids that at home, then they will learn alternate life skills from teachers, peers and technology. Once you lose that ground, it is difficult, if not impossible to gain it back.
By the time they head to college, they will be weak-minded young adults, constantly looking for safe spaces because they will not have learned how to deal with life, and you will be wishing, you’d snapped to it and had those chats with your kids.