May 31, 2022
8 mins read
When it comes to control, I think about how much my own child is listening to my advice.
We have a pretty strict family policy when it comes to technology. If you read me, then you know my opinion about addiction to screens, phones, applications, and social media.
So far, I’ve written dozens of articles about this, and I’ve studied the effects of overexposure to the stimuli generated by connectivity.
Today you can no longer break away from technology, it is impossible to swim against the current and declare yourself anti-screen because humanity has already chosen to evolve in this direction.
But that doesn’t stop us from constantly asking ourselves questions about how we want to live our lives and how we can use what the modern world brings us, without turning into zombies running after dopamine given by the endless scroll on Facebook, youtube, or tik tok.
Toma, my 8-year-old son, for example, is allowed on the phone to play, for one hour a day, on weekends. This is in addition to the children’s programming course, where I enrolled him, just to explore this part, where he seems to have some inclination.
But he is not allowed on the phone during the week. And the laptop only opens if it has dedicated themes in this direction.
It’s not difficult to impose family rules that you know help your child’s brain grow naturally and not be numb after hours of buttoning.
It is more difficult for you, as a parent, to rise to the level of the rules you impose: not to sit on the phone, when you are with the child, to have “free” rules, in which you practice, in fact, the state of presence with the family members, to have a program and YOU to respect, to show discipline and verticality, about your child.
We do not always succeed, but we make conscious and constant efforts in this direction.
And the last discussions, since Toma started to become more and more independent (to leave the house, to go to the store alone, to play on the street, with children his age) — were a bit more complicated.
We live in a complex world and, every time we leave home, we have a cloud of insecurity that falls on us, as parents: is he safe, does he know how to return alone, is he attentive to cars?
In the first phase, we wanted to buy him a GPS watch (for children), which would always indicate his position, just to be calm. We turned the decision over to all the girls, but from a psychological point of view, there is something that does not give us peace: the fact that this acquisition is not for the long-term benefit of the child.
Not that it is “technology”, but rather that we, as parents, should develop our confidence in him that he can handle it. Let’s make it truly independent and not give in to the impulses that come from our insecurities.
Today there are phones not only with GPS but also with the function of “spy”, which you press and hear everything around the child, without him knowing. When I understood the implications, my stomach turned upside down. Then I know that I said to my wife, “No, we don’t do that!”
What about a GPS watch? What’s wrong with that?
Then I remembered sitting in front of the block for hours, with the key around my neck, without any other control from my parents in my free time.
If I didn’t come to the table, if I was long overdue — all this was discussed in the family, turned on all the girls, negotiated. In extreme situations, I would take another slap on the back of the neck, when I jumped on the horse and my people were waiting for me, blacks of concern, in front of the door. But my time was my time, without a “big brother” to follow me all the time.
My opinion today is that I have become a little too soft as a parent. At least I think so. Being able to control your child, under the pretext of his safety, seems benign. But it only adds a new layer of complexity to our lives, which comes from a seemingly noble motive.
The child, from our point of view, should have some autonomy, to feel that he is on his own, to understand the consequences of his decisions. So I kept postponing this decision, maybe a little too much.
One day, when I was in the kitchen, Toma looked at me with a smile on her face, as if she was baking something in her mind (I know this expression very well, it’s the moment when she finds an argument that she can get beneficial with others, a new angle). After mastering his inner enthusiasm and masking his smile, he started the conversation with me, seemingly harmless:
“Daddy, do you know about Alexandra, the girl who is karate with me?”
“It’s like you told me about her before, yes,” I replied, trying to encourage him to speak.
“She’s smaller than me…”
“And she has only one phone call of hers, with which she comes there. So that her parents know where she is,” he continued, pressing every word and looking me straight in the eye.
“When do you take a phone call from me? She’s smaller than me…”
I know a lot of parents who have this dilemma and it is a very difficult decision, from all points of view. Schoolmates, who already have phones, tablets, and watches. And the feeling of inferiority that he might feel that would affect him emotionally, in the long run. It’s easier to give up… What’s so bad, though?
But the devil is in the details, I always say that. All studies show that exposure to screens (applications, games, social media) at ages when the brain is not yet fully formed incapacitates me, then, for life.
Look at a child (even a teenager, but it is more visible in preadolescents) and what it looks like after 1–2 hours of sitting with your eyes on the screen. You will see that he has a hazy mind, that he can no longer react emotionally very coherently, and that he has fixed eyes, many times. And that it needs time to recover and become “functional.” It is numb.
The technology used in excess “anesthetizes” the user. In the long run, children need to learn how to deal with the emotions they feel, but also learn how to manage the time they get bored. If you give him a phone call too early and you don’t put a firm limit on his use, then he will take refuge in it at the slightest negative emotion. And at the slightest feeling of boredom, as well.
In the short term, you gain peace in the house (you don’t have to have endless discussions about it, you don’t have to control yourself in front of him, in the end, everyone wins).
In the medium and long term, however, you get an emotionally and socially disabled adult who has developed a mechanism similar to the one that is visible in cigarette, alcohol, or gambling addicts throughout his childhood.
All of this quickly crossed my mind, to Thomas’ reply, “When are you calling me?”
I snorted with laughter, then, and said,
“Get me out of here, who are you fooling around?”
He also started laughing, we both laughed, then we got back into a big discussion about technology, the importance of the rules regarding its use, and that at the moment it is not ok to have a smartphone at this age. However, 2–3 weeks passed and, when I was in front of the laptop, I received a phone call from my wife:
“I’ll buy him a watch, but not with GPS, simple…”
The discussion had been brought repeatedly between us, coming from the background we talked about above, in the newsletter. But she already seemed determined.
“No. Thomas challenged me to a discussion and I realized he was right.”
What did the little one say to convince her? Simple, in a moment of authenticity, he said, “Mommy, I don’t want a smartwatch or a phone. I’d like a baby’s birthday watch, it’s coming now, so I know what time it is when I’m out.”
And that solves our insecurities and the indecision we had during this period, whether with GPS or not. An hour to know when to come back home is a good decision.
If it had been with GPS, just like on the phone, it would have been a very good decision in the short term (we would have been calmer when he left the house), but we would have gotten a disabled adult, who would have depended too much of parents. And it would have transformed us into a small totalitarian state, which keeps an eye on everything its citizenry does.
But that is my current opinion. Maybe I’m wrong …