We cannot beat the devices – they have infiltrated our lives irreversibly. True – if one moves to a remote island, becomes Amish or sails around the world disconnected from civilization – one can avoid the digital devices. We cannot. Of course, if one cannot afford a digital device, one is facing more important challenges than this one. That said, since we don't want to eliminate all electronics from our lives, we have to find a way to live in harmony with the devices designed for distraction. I am thrilled that all summer, while at camp, my children experience life device free. But we don't have the stomach to live device free year round.
The effort to exert parental restriction on the digital devices was teaching our children how to become adept at evading detection and dishonesty. So what is worse - unmonitored use of digital devices where the device is quickly absorbing much of their unstructured time or the same thing, but having to discern if my child is lying, hiding or otherwise evading interference?
Our initial thoughts on battle strategies:
- Keep Parentkit on the devices (even though it blocks Spotify, Instagram and Safari) as a requirement for keeping the device
- Eliminate all games from the devices and ensure they have no way to put them back on by taking away their iTunes account where they use their iTunes gift cards.
- Switch from iPhone to Android where there are applications for parents to control the device remotely.
- Take away the devices
Every parent of an (upper) middle class middle-schooler seems to be embroiled in the same struggle. As far as struggles go, there are some much worse – our children are healthy and safe. So it’s a first world “problem”. That said, it’s our first world problem. We know that the devices keep our children from socializing face to face and creatively filling their free time. Or being bored. Or running around. They have unprecedented access to all types of entertainment – at their fingertips (more on that another time). And the answers aren’t simple – suburban tweens and teens communicate and make plans overwhelmingly through these devices.
Our goal is that our children are capable, as young adults, to make responsible choices about how they use technology. We had a family meeting to talk about what technology is doing to our family. We invited our children to make a contract with us as the providers of the phone and wireless service and to articulate what they thought was reasonable use and what the consequences would be if they violated the agreement. We wrote it out and it’s posted in our house. Here is what we agreed upon:
- No devices in bedrooms. Ever.
- No devices in the car until the trip is longer than one hour. There is no need to text in the car while going from place to place. If a text comes in, it can be addressed when you arrive at your destination.
- Everyone’s devices are placed in the charging stations by the front door when they arrive. This applies to Mom and Dad too. The au pair may take his upstairs. Use the new, super cool charging stations.
- Devices can be used for listening to music while doing homework. Devices can be used for listening to music on the bus.
- On the weekends or no-school days, individual devices can be used for 30 minutes per day for entertainment in a public space in the house. The child will set their timer after stating that they are going to use their 30 minutes. After that time, they can play together on the Xbox, play board games, cards, go outside, etc.
- On a weekend or no-school day when a child is alone in the house, they may have another 30-minute window.
And the consequences:
- First violation, lose device for one day
- Second violation, lose device for three days
- Third violation, lose device for full week
What do you think? How long do you think the treaty will keep the peace?