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We need to talk.
First, I am sorry. When I wrote about throwing away your iPhone, I did not intend to equate you with a 2-year-old tantrum thrower. No way. You are the farthest thing from it.
I was trying to say that parenting gets harder as kids get older, and that a wise teacher once counseled that good parenting sometimes means changing your mind even in the face of strong resistance. I am sorry for how I wrote it. I’m not a perfect mom, or a perfect writer. It’s hard to end an essay. It’s hard to know the right parenting path.
Second, I am proud of you, and of how you communicated with me. You handled yourself with restraint and respect, telling me you were mad at me, and that you would talk with me about it later, privately. You said you worried you would be teased, and that because the story is on the internet, anyone could happen upon it.
Let me set the record straight. You didn’t cry, wail, or tantrum in the slightest when you read the article. You explained why you were angry with me with a calm dignity that most adults (myself included) can’t muster. I admire your maturity, your clarity and your patience.
Being a parent is soul-filling fun. I love being with you. And sometimes being a parent is hard, because you want to do what’s best for your kid and it’s not always clear what that is. So you check your values, you talk with friends you respect, you may even ask your own parents for advice, and in the end you go with your gut.
(Actually, that’s a good prescription for handling difficult choices you encounter at any age.)
I hope you will accept my apology and also my praise.
Now what did you think about the rest of the essay? Do you understand why I am concerned about the amount of attention you give your iPhone? Do you agree that it is super tempting to check Instagram?
I know I tend to be a worrier. But a lot of parents have the same worry. We worry that your generation is falling into an addiction still too fresh to be understood. Our gut tells us this is a problem. All of us are trying to figure out limits on them.
I know you understand some of the dangers. We have talked about the 15-year-old boy from our neighborhood who died because he was looking at his phone when he crossed the street. We’ve talked about the unknown effects of radiation on the brain. You have heard your baseball coach tell of how he helped an adult who fell because he didn’t notice the sidewalk end. We got some chuckles from watching this video of a guy falling into a fountain because of his phone.
But it’s not your physical safety I am most worried about. It’s that I look around and see people—young and old—not talking to each other. It’s that so many people go to their phones when they are bored, instead of anything else: write a poem, go for a walk, daydream. I don’t want that to be you, or your brother, or your friends, or me, or Dad.
So what should we do about it?
I’m not going to throw away your phone. I acknowledged from the start that it has some fine social attributes—like making plans for a pick-up basketball game, or hanging out at the Pier, or just saying Hi. But it can’t take over.
So here’s what I suggest.
1. You may continue to take the phone with you to school in your backpack. I know you like to play games, or take photos, or whatever, on the bus ride home. I’m cool with that. It’s fun. Be sure to text your grandparents and aunts sometimes, too. They love hearing from you.
2. When we are in the car together, turn it off and put it in your backpack. I like to talk with you. And if you don’t feel like talking, we can listen to music. We’ll be sharing the experience.
3. When we get home, put it in the closet, not out on the counter. Out of sight, more out of mind.
4. After dinner, you can check your phone, let’s say for 20 minutes, if homework’s done. Then say goodnight to your phone and put it back in the closet.
5. Here’s the good part. I will put my phone away, too. I want to break the habit of checking for new e-mails every twenty minutes (or more). After the work day is done, mine is off.
I’m not saying this is going to be easy. But I trust that we will get used to it and maybe even be grateful. We will keep each other honest. You are a reasonable and wise person, and I’m guessing you will find these guidelines reasonable and wise as well.
One more thing. When we go on a loooong road trip, you and your brother can turn on the phone and play some games, but if I find you guys looking at the screen instead of Half Dome, we’re gonna have a problem.
I love you to the end of the universe,