Like it or not, cell phones have become a part of our kids’ identity.
There is no faster way for my kids to get a sideways bug-eyed “I am super annoyed right now” look from me than not to answer when called because they are on their cell phone. What parent with a teen has not experienced some variation of being ignored by your kid because they were immersed in their phones or tablets? Watching my daughters zone out with their cell phones can certainly evoke frustration at times, but it also reminds me what it was like to just want to connect with my friends from home. Those of us born before the 1990s can recall the times you snuck the only house phone, with its twenty-foot long cord stretched to your bedroom to talk to a friend past curfew. Teens need to connect now just the same as we did back then.
I could recite the lyrics of “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” and my children would get a rip-roaring laugh at me for sure. But the old rap song is a perfect reminder that still rings true today. Teens feel misunderstood at times in the ever-changing world of puberty, social acceptance, and finding one’s self in the crowd. Just because I can retell countless stories of my youth and try my best to relate to their struggles, it is not quite the same. Parents just don’t understand.
Teens need to connect to other teens that they feel they can relate to. The world of technology offers our kids a connection they are searching for.
Do not get me wrong; I prefer my kids having fifteen friends over to hang out to them sitting on the sofa with their air pods in and phone in their face. However, getting together is not always possible, and technology continues to show us innovative new ways to communicate with one another.
The idea that nearly any given teenager can have a dance learned and recorded to post in under five minutes is a wild phenomenon these kids are sharing. This is their time to bond, like when we had the electric slide, the running man, or did the Macarena at the school dance.
While science points out the risk of a generation of narcissists and self-absorbed youngsters, I witness evidence to the contrary. I have seen creative photography on apps like VSCO and Instagram, where these kids can identify beauty in the inanimate objects around them. I have noticed that they compliment each other freely. My kids have captured moments on their ten second Snapchat videos that have brought me to tears. Our kids are just trying to express themselves, and their phones can sometimes become an instrument to do that.
There is a time and space for cell phones in our kids’ lives.
After intense debate, we decided in our home to allow the use of cell phones and felt our kids needed to learn with guidance on how to navigate this world of technology they inherited. We did not extend the privilege of having cell phones until middle school and only did so with a signed contract and understanding of the set rules. We fully anticipated that there would be times the rules would get broken, and we had consequences in place. We have a lockbox on our kitchen counter for this purpose. The fact that my kids have been reachable in times of uncertainty, such as when my eldest daughter endured a shooting in her school, reiterated our decision to allow cell phones. While safety plays a part, it should not be the sole deciding factor in allowing your child to have a cell phone.
Like it or not, cell phones and the ways our kids are using them, is as much a part of their identity and their feeling of place in this world as it has become for adults. As adults, we have pieces of our personality behind that locked screen, and so do our kids. Teens are growing up and learning to navigate it all together. I have learned that when I am not demanding my kids’ attention for household chores or schoolwork, it is fascinating when they share a glimpse into their iPhone world. I know that the opportunities for our teens to connect with us are, at times, rare, so I will take them happily as they come.