*This Article is a 4 minute read
My child was born in 2010, three years after the birth of the iPhone. His generation is used to streaming their favorite shows, owning tablets as preschoolers, and cell phones by age 9.
While we resisted all of the above, we finally joined the bandwagon during the pandemic. We saw technology as a way for our only child to stay connected with his peers.
Well That Didn't Exactly Happen...
My son was ecstatic to get a laptop at age 9, and a cell phone by age 10. He purchased a $25 "burner phone" (a disposable cell phone) with his own money. He asked me to buy a phone plan, but I refused. He was stuck using free WI-FI. I lectured him on the dangers of the web. I warned him that one bad move would result in the loss of his devices.
What I didn't take into account was that a child doesn't know what danger looks like on the web. Children can't always decode the hidden messages that are in some YouTube videos. I stumbled upon my son watching a a middle age Minecraft gamer who was sharing inappropriate stories with his young audience. My son at the time thought the program was okay since it was a gaming video.
Another time my child was watching a Bob Ross parody. The Ross impersonator said he was going to paint the prophet Mohammed which is disrespectful to Muslims, and dangerous if anyone learned a lesson from the tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France.
What was most frightening to me as a parent was that strangers who hadn't be vetted were indoctrinating my child. Television and film have a rating, but the internet, well it's a free for all!
There were days when my harmonious home transformed into a verbal war zone. Most of our arguments were about internet use and content. My child was growing more depressed and anxious.
Does This Scenario Sound Familiar?
We would take away his devices as punishment for a week or a month. He would behave himself, and earn back his devices, but the cycle would repeat itself, until one day I said "Enough!"
I Confiscated Everything!
Implementing a Digital Detox
I had read about digital detoxes, but I really didn't follow a particular method. I didn't plan on the detox being 7 months, it just turned out that way. The devices were taken away Spring 2022, and returned one by one starting in November 2022 on a probationary basis.
Here's What Happened
My son cried for days. I imagine he was going through withdrawal. He made a few violent threats which I laughed at. He acted out and claimed that it was because he lost his devices. He advised us to give them back so he would have something to do. I laughed at that as well.
*It is important to replace screen time with real activities that your child will enjoy.
Last Spring he went to camp, when school reopened he was busy most of the day, and participated in activities after school. He was allowed to watch TV, and DVD's that met our approval. Some of the shows he watched were from the 1960's! After about three weeks he no longer mentioned his devices.
What About Schoolwork?
Most schoolwork is done on computers in and out of school. I handled online homework by telling his teachers to print his assignments. Most teachers agreed with our decision to pull the plug on our child's devices.
What About Online Friends?
I offered to entertain classmates in person, and I told my child to give out our landline phone number. He complained at first, "Mom no one does that anymore!" He was concerned that it wasn't "cool." I told him that nothing could be more renegade than being off the grid.
While we couldn't fully escape the digital world 100% since schools give children laptops in the classroom, we were able to drastically reduce screen time, and the pitfalls that are attached to it, but something greater happened...
My Child Grew Up
He earned back his devices for good behavior. It gave him something to strive for. It's been two months since they've been in his possession, and we haven't argued about his screen usage.
It took seven months for him to realize that his anxiety and depression were linked to the negative programming he had viewed online in the past. "Mom I never realized it until you gave me my devices back. When I looked at some of those old videos again, I could see how they made me sad."
He Found Other Ways To Entertain Himself
Drawing, playing on his keyboard, Legos, watching comedies he discovered the possibilities were endless.
Establishing a Healthy Relationship With Tech
I believe it can be done. We did it. Perhaps nine and ten years old is too young for unrestricted internet, perhaps our child learned from his mistakes. I do know that time away gave him a chance to experience life, form his own ideas, and gain some perspective. He is a little older, wiser, and not as gullible. He tells me about anything suspicious he sees online.
Recently he introduced me to "Misogynist Andrew Tate," and that was his own description.
I asked him "What's a misogynist?"
He replied in shock, "You don't know what a misogynist is?"
I answered, "I do, but I want to know what you think it is."
He said, "It's a man who hates women."
I decided to watch Mr. Tate being interviewed online. I was repulsed by his views on husbands owning their wives, but I saw this as a teachable moment for my son, not a punishable one. He came to me with a question. Something didn't seem right to him, and he felt comfortable coming to me for guidance. I am still the parent, not the web, and it's my place to be present, teach, engage, and offer my opinion while respecting my child's exploration. This battle isn't over, the war isn't won, but it is creating a new relationship between parent and child. Digitally aware, and socially conscience.
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