The Monday evening we watched those TedTalks, as I was walking to class, I was really struck and bothered as I walked far across the parking lot and campus (gotta protect that new car) by the way that the other (much younger) students that I passed along the way refused to engage or even make eye contact. They either had their noses buried in phones, or they purposely diverted their eyes when I would try to connect or even smile. It was really pulling at my heart, and it has been on my mind for several weeks as I had been noticing it all around me. In the coffee shop I saw a mother hold her phone up to her 9 month old's face to quiet him while she had coffee with a friend rather than pick him up or engage with him. A few nights before while at dinner with my husband I saw a family having dinner while mom and both kids were on their phones and dad just stared off eating as if alone at a full table. It bothered me.
So when the first TedTalk we watched that night was about the disconnection caused by social media and technology, I was primed to react. Shockingly I had kept relatively quiet for most of the semester, but at the end of the TedTalk I pulled my soapbox out and let the kids in the room have it. I talked about the rudeness and ineptness of their generation to be respectful and engage. I told them I understood (I too would rather text than call) but I warned them of the ills of little kids who had no social skills, like waiting, or behaving in public because moms and dads were always putting tablets and phones in front of them. I got passionate, and truthfully, they were receptive - when I finally stepped off my soapbox there were lots of nods and even a little rustle of small applause. I was sort of relieved they were not completely oblivious to the problem, and as I walked to the car that night one young mother even told me I had made her think and reconsider how she was doing "the tablet thing."
When the next TedTalk talked about the need to "stop the war on drugs" and I listened to one of my classmates talk about "how sad" it was that so much art and literature were probably missing from the world because LSD was illegal I had to swallow the new rise of passion - I felt I had already used my one soapbox pass for the night. So as I listened to the class support the legalization of all kinds of drugs, I just melted. After that we watched a couple more videos on food deserts and prisoner rehabilitation that were far less inciting for me. So at the end of the night I had to decide whether I would write a paper related to technology and social media or the war on drugs. I couldn't even make a decision for two more days. I was disturbed.
In the end I chose social media and technology-- primarily because I felt like I could be more reasonable. I looked around at this group or primarily 18-22-year-olds and who do not have the benefit of hindsight that being 45 presents. I no longer think I am immortal and I have stood at the side of enough graves or heard enough news about the death of friends or their children or acquaintances who have had their death caused by drug use, or known enough people who addiction has devastated, that I won't even buy into drug use being a freedom or a good thing... enough said. I chose passion, but I chose it safely.
The assignment was to "do a lot of research," and go into the project with questions, allow more questions to develop and "keep an open mind." I have to say, one thing I learned in this first semester of school, I am pretty set about what I believe and why. The instructor offered an assignment for enlightenment, and I feel like the
light Light in my life is already on. So I did my best to keep an open mind, but I knew there would be no great revelation or change in what I believed. So I started my research.
I looked through the required scholarly journals and books and I also did a survey online that 118 people responded to anonymously. Contrary to popular belief (concern) I really wasn't able to figure out who was who much at all. I had responses from all ages 12 to 82 but the bulk (42%) came in the 36-45 age group and the next largest response was in the 46-55 age group (19%.) The male/ female split was 24% to 76%. 66% of people were married. 71% had kids living at home. 88% were regular/ familiar Facebook users, 45% had no idea what Kik was and 50% had never heard of ask.fm. 97% have a smart phone, 77% use a tablet.
I asked questions about texting and driving (27.5% do so Always, often or sometimes) and 66% responded that they do so at a red light (heads up, you can get a ticket for that too.) 67% use their phones and social media in social situations with friends and 50% often or sometimes (0% for always) bring their phones to the dinner table. 67% of you swear you never let your kids use social media you aren't familiar with, but then again half of you have never heard of one of the most popular teen social medias - so my conjecture is that a few things may be getting past you.
When I asked about the scenes that I had seen that bothered me (the mom and the infant, the dad alone at the full table) most of you were bothered too. I also brought up the kids on tablets in restaurants and there was a split there, a lot of folks saw it as the modern day papers and crayons and others agreed with my thoughts about kids needing to learn to interact and behave in public. I would just say this, it's a whole lot easier to "unplug" from the crayon and paper - are your kids unplugging from the tablet. It bothers me when I drive behind a minivan and see the TV screens in the backs of you headrests and every child constantly plugged in and entertained (and truthfully, I could share text from my other class and the book Entertaining Ourselves to Death to back up those concerns, but this has already gotten really long.)
What I found through my research was simple - we mostly justify our own actions. Moms with toddlers who were letting their kids use tablets stated that they thought that was the right age to allow it. Moms who let their preteens have smartphones thought that was the right age. And interestingly enough it was the people who had no kids who thought no kids should be allowed to use social media and a lot of technology until adulthood. My thought - well, I was the perfect parent before I had kids too. So I get the unrealistic aspect of that. When my oldest was little I sometimes had to rewind Mickey Mouse in the VCR ten times in a single day just to get a few things done around the house. It's what worked for this mama, but I know now that didn't necessarily make it right. And I do think there is a big leap from the VCR to the internet, but maybe I'm just justifying?
I was surprised that 34 % of parents allow kids to have their phones in their bedrooms at night - but perhaps the benefit of being burned in that has made my hindsight sharp. It seemed oddly compared to 64% of you never allowing them to have their phones at the dinner table - sort of points out that "supervision" is not the primary concern. But it turns out that most people feel lost without their cellphones, so maybe that has something to do with it? I don't know.
Oddly enough since my research and this survey I finally succumbed to allowing both my 14-year-old (finishing up 8th grade) and 13-year-old (finishing up 7th) get smartphones in the last week - despite my passion. My oldest was 19 before he moved into the smartphone world. Of course I also armed their smartphones with a great software called Mobile Fence that limits what they can access, and reports to me throughout the day about where they are physically and what they are doing on their phones, everything from accessing the messages, to receiving a call (with number shown) visiting Instagram (the only social media I allow at this point.) And the app has the ability for me to block anything and anyone remotely. I can even shut it down completely if need be. So although I seemingly relaxed my policy compared to their older brother, I actually managed to get a stronger leash - and I'm ok with that.
I was going to share my essay here, but I will do it in a separate post since this one has already gotten so long. But suffice it to say that the instructor offered up the possibility that we might not be able to answer whatever question we came to decide on as our thesis, and I ran with that opportunity. My thesis became about the parental responsibility to monitor our kids in the cyber world. I have been burned there too, so again it was not a new stance or understanding for me through my research but it did affirm what I already knew and experienced.
As I have stepped away from my former legalism over the last few years, I am completely capable of recognizing that at least as Christian parents, we are all called to parent our children individually, and what works in my home and family may not work in yours - and that's ok. I need to trust the Holy Spirit in you, and likewise you need to trust it in me - BUT (big fat screaming BUT) we ALL need to carefully evaluate how much we are truly doing our job, truly monitoring, truly seeking the Holy Spirit even in our parenting and more specifically in our parenting in the cyber world.
If I told you I drove my kids out into a gang infested ghetto and dropped them off for 8 hours to fend for themselves, I suspect most of you would be calling social services on me - but the truth is when we blindly let them interact on social networking and the world wide web, there are just as many dangers and dirtbags out there, but because our children seemingly sit across the room or in their bedroom, we allow ourselves to live satisfied under the illusion that all is right in their worlds, but predators, and cyberbullying and temptations abound. I know, I have learned that the hard way - which is where the hook of my essay starts.
If you would like to read the end result of my research paper, click here: The Uphill Battle (Surveys, and finals and essays, oh my! - Part 2: The Paper)