OK, I admit it. You can call me the Saturday Night Buzz Stomper.
I did it again. I ruined another parent’s night out. It wasn’t my intention – it never is. We were a group of friends enjoying birthday champagne and small talk. Trying our best to stay clear of “work” talk, we talk about vacations, restaurants, yoga class. And we talk about our children. Except that that is my “work”. My ears always perk up.
A father says that his 12-year-old son has entered middle school. He wrinkles his nose and says that he is not working enough, and he isn’t talking much either. Then he laughs, “Oh well.” I laugh back.
Then I add, “Whatever you do, don’t get him his own smartphone or tablet.” One look at the father’s face, and I know that it is too late.
When Connection Becomes an Addiction
What follows I’ve heard all too often. The father volunteers that his son loves his tablet and uses it a lot. He takes it to bed with him. He has trouble getting up in the morning. His nanny is unable to keep him off of it after school. He isn’t really interested in doing anything else. The father concludes, “There isn’t anything we can do. He gets angry at her. And you know, nowadays it is essential; they must be connected, or they will be left out.”
I begin to stomp his buzz harder.
“Left out of what?” I ask.
The father looks like he wishes I would disappear. But he is unable to resist, so he answers my question.
Fifteen minutes later I have learned that another older son is addicted to the internet – is in therapy for it – and has been unable to hold a job. The father thinks that the tablet has a lot to do with his younger son’s falling grades and lack of communication but is afraid to upset him by taking it away. No, he doesn’t really know where his son spends his time on the internet. No, he has never heard of chat bazouka or bazoocam, two chat sites where tweeners can easily be misled by imposters.
Yes, his son plays World of Warcraft. And yes, I guess it is possible that he visits porn sites. “What do you want his mother and me to do? We both work long hours during the week – the nanny is doing the best she can.”
Parents, if you or your nanny are unable to serve as your child’s internet filter and timekeeper, then don’t give your child free access to it!
Truth # 1: The internet has no filters to keep our under-18-year-old children from being exploited by:
- Corporations that want to sell your teen their products and games,
- Websites, apps, and platforms that want your teen’s traffic to attract advertisers,
- Predators who want information from your teen, or who wish to engage your teen in age-inappropriate activities in order to make money or for their own pleasure,
- People with an agenda who want to brainwash your teen to join their cause.
These places on the internet do not have your child’s interest in mind. In fact, they can be downright harmful – disrupting your child’s intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development.
Truth # 2: The time that your child spends in the virtual world is time he or she is NOT spending in the real world.
As a reminder, the real world is the one where your teen’s five senses are alive in human exploration and learning. The real world is where your daughter sees her friend’s smile turn into a frown and then back again into a smile, and where she feels her heart pounding after running far and fast.
It is where your son touches the shape of a Lego block and then hears it click into place, where he smells his dog’s breath after she licks his cheek, and where he tastes the sweetness of a fresh strawberry a vendor offers him at an outdoor market.
Without adequate time experiencing the real world, the virtual world – with its dulling and perverse impact on the five senses – will become your child’s real world, and your child’s human aliveness will be compromised.
Truth # 3a: You – not your child – control the family bank account.
Your child cannot buy a smartphone or tablet unless you pay for it. And you can choose not to.
Truth # 3b: Similarly, you – not your child – control the family computers.
You can choose not to share the passwords.
Truth # 4: A simple cellphone is enough.
It allows you to call your teen and for your teen to text his friends. A password-protected family computer is enough. It allows your teen the possibility of doing homework and spending a reasonable amount of leisure time on the internet. Both will save your teen’s growing brain from some of the possible harmful effects of tablet screen backlighting and smartphone radiation.
To quote the father again: “…they must be connected, or they will be left out.” He means, of course, that our children must be connected to the internet so that they are not left out of the technology of our time. But what about human connection? What about being left out of humanity? What happens if our children don’t acquire adequate real world experience?
Might we, as parents, be incorrect in assuming that our children will undergo the intellectual, emotional, social, and physical growth necessary to join fully and confidently the family of man, when big chunks of their day may be spent online?
Are we naïve because we grew up without the virtual world – so even if we spend big chunks of time in it today, we are able to discern the difference between the virtual and real worlds and are competent navigators of each?
Dear parents, our generation knows human connection, we are not left out of humanity. My question for you is this: What must you do today so that you will be able to say the same for each of your children tomorrow? What must you do today so that your teen thrives?