When my husband told me he wanted to hand down his old cell phone to my son when he upgraded to a new one, I was worried. I thought it was too early. Our plan was to give him a cell phone no earlier than 13. I looked at him. There he was 10.5 years-old, looking almost 14, playing with our phone.
We discussed and finally decided to go for it. He already knew how to operate our phones, along with all types of electronics better than I did. He was my go-to helper in the car when I need to look up directions, search something or respond to a text. It would give him more independence and us peace of mind along with flexibility.
But I knew we would have problems with excessive usage. Especially with games.
I could see him glued to his cell phone at every opportunity he could get.
We were already having issues with screen time, with the computer, phone and tablets available at hand.
He was overjoyed when he got his phone. I admit, I was a bit irritated by his exclamation of entitlement, exhaling “finally” when he opened it, but my husband set him straight with cell phone contract and explained him his rights and responsibilities. This was 2 months ago.
Unfortunately, my prediction came true.
In the following days, he played on his cell phone whenever he could, even though he was done with his allowed screen time. First few days, which was over the holidays, we let him enjoy his new phone in hopes of it fading away. After the honeymoon period was over, we started to kindly instruct him to put it down when enough was enough.
But there was a twist.
Few times, when I asked him to put his phone away, I had my cell phone on my hand and my husband was checking his own cell phone as well. So, when my son responded to my request by saying “but you are always on your phone”, that cell phone burned my hand.
“Put that phone down and calmly step away”, I told myself.
Until that point, I haven’t realized how much of the time he would see us on our cell phones. It was embarrassing, considering that I didn’t think of myself being on my phone a lot. Sometimes, I would use it to do something necessary like looking up an answer to a question my kids ask or find a recipe. But then I would get distracted and find myself unconsciously checking my IG feed, WhatsApp threads, instead of reading do something more productive.
My fears turned out to be worse than I had initially thought. I noticed whenever my son was on his phone but he wasn’t supposed to, we were on our phones as well. I had to put mine down and signal to my husband to do the same before I asked my son to leave his phone. It made me notice, how much we were attached to our smartphones and he was reflecting us.
I slowly started to become more conscious of my own cell phone use at home, at least in front of the kids.
At the end of two months, giving my son a cell phone became a blessing in disguise. I became better at controlling my own screen time on my cell phone. Gradually, he followed suit. It is not easy to do that with all types of distracting apps and social media in our palms. It is scary how quickly we lose our awareness and fall into the trap of mindless browsing and messaging. I still use my smartphone as a tool smart myself up, but I have to consciously put an effort to make sure it’s not unconsciously dummying me down and disconnecting me from my family.
Are you also finding it hard to be conscious of using your cell phones and other electronics in front of your kids? Please share, if you have strategies that work for you to be a better role model for your children?