Everything Changes Overnight
This summer we gave my eldest daughter her first phone.
Of course I’d had big plans on giving her a Nokia brick for her 18th birthday, but seeing as she started senior school this month, and now has to commute into London each day, a phone seemed a logical step.
However, through no fault of her own, her world – as she had known it for the past 11 years – changed overnight.
She was added to several WhatsApp groups (whose 11 year old members never seem to sleep it would seem) and so her phone started pinging continually.
With this, began the stress of feeling that she had to check it, and answer, and check it again, and answer because if you don’t answer, you’ll be left out.
And then the selfies started coming in of everyone looking like they’re having the time of their lives, they all seem to be together, and they all look ridiculously smooth (tween over-filter excitement). Then inevitably in trotted the unhelpful doubts of, ‘Hang on, why am I not there? Did I not get the invite? I must keep checking my phone in case I miss anything.’
So it goes on. A new layer of social anxiety all in the screen of a little rectangular device. An awful lot for a child’s brain to cope with. A brain which has spent the past decade blissfully unaware of any of this.
And this is all before she’s even entered into the world of social media.
You can imagine my delight when she made the incredibly mature decision to leave her phone behind when we went for our annual two week holiday to Scotland this summer.
I didn’t ask her to. It was a decision she came to all on her own, because she was aware enough of her own mental wellbeing to know that, just the day before she got that phone, life was a whole lot more straightforward.
And sure enough, as soon as that little screen of technological dreams (or nightmares) was out of the picture, she was back to being the carefree 11 year old child that she should be: living in the moment and not caring about what anybody else was doing.
It’s Hard Enough For Adults
In an act of solidarity, I made the conscious decision to put mine away too. No social media. No checking e-mails. No constant texting. No more mindlessly looking up the ‘Where Are They Now?’ site for the entire cast of Degrassi Junior High.
I soon realised how much I stare at my phone screen during the day, absentmindedly checking it.
Firstly, that’s not a great example to set my children (because it’s exactly what I don’t want them to do), and secondly it made me realise just how much of my average day I spend checking my phone.
As soon as I stopped, a layer of stress and distraction was lifted from me too. That niggling pull to keep checking my Instagram, my e-mails, my Twitter because God forbid if I missed anything, was instantly removed.
I was more present for the little S.H.I.T.s and living in the moment with them, rather than ignoring them because I had to ‘urgently’ get an Instagram post out.
My daughter decided after her two week phone hiatus that she didn’t actually want to look at it for the rest of the holidays. Music to my ears. And so our detox continued.
I suddenly noticed whole families sitting together, their eyes transfixed to the screens in their hands, completely unaware of each other, never mind talking to each other.
I realised how much I really, really don’t want us to be like that, and so Mr S.H.I.T. and I decided on a few family rules about phone use before these habits get too hard to break. As we all know, screens are addictive whatever age you are.
Rules to Follow
And so our daughter started secondary school and as we knew it would, the phone came back into play. WhatsApp groups were set up by her new friends and she was asked to join them – a relief because ironically, as annoying as the pinging may be, and believe you me, year 7 girls don’t have a lot of great interest to say to each other, you don’t want to be a social piranha and not be invited to be pinged at.
It’s a double edged sword. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s stressful if you’re part of it all, and stressful if you’re not, because in this day and age of tween/teen life, everybody is a part of it.
But I’m very glad to say, she’s not spending too much time on her phone. She seems to know when to put it down, and I’ve been given the following good advice so far from parents who have been doing this for a while:
- Keep an open dialogue with your children about what’s going on so they know they can talk to you and you can keep them safe
- Phones must always be left downstairs overnight
- Limit time on the phone at home
- Check their phone regularly to make sure they are using it wisely.
Any more pearls of wisdom that you may have from your own experience are more than welcome. We’re just starting out on this journey and we’re well aware it’s not going to always be an easy one.