Put the Phone Down and Step Away from the Tech: Parenting with Technology

My Lock Screen

I don’t like smartphones. I have one. But I don’t like it. For close to a year I’ve been trying to figure out how to detach myself from the tiny computer in my pocket. There have been some successes. More failures. And the battle continues between who I want to be, and the reality of life with constant access to…kind of…everything.

My most recent success has been an effort to make my phone more difficult to interact with on a daily basis. I have most of my apps buried in a single folder, and the only way to get them is voice search (or painstaking manual search in the folder). That means when I turn to my phone it’s for a reason. I have to ASK FOR SOMETHING. And when I get what I’m after, then I’m done using the phone for the time being. This has worked remarkably well, as long as I’m intentional.

I’ve also modified my lock screen and my home screen to remind me that my phone is a tool, not a time-suck. The lock screen literally asks me “Why am I in your hand?” I usually have a good reason; sometimes I don’t… Then the home screen reinforces the theme by asking “How can I help you?” Because that is what the smartphone is for, when you get down to it. I’ve always held to the idea that if your technology is not making your life better then it isn’t doing it’s job. And losing hours upon hours every day to social media browsing, news reading, and game playing is not making life better, at least in my opinion. Side note: I have zero mobile games on my smartphone.

This is a parenting with tech post, so here’s the parenting angle. I started reading up on kids and tech several months back. It all started with a post I read on Medium about how technology gives us hundreds of “connection points” but does not foster a habit of conversation with our family, friends, and neighbors. Sherry Turkle’s book, “Reclaiming Conversation” makes an argument that a big piece missing in our society today is conversations (with ourselves, our friends/family, and our community at large). This led me down a rabbit hole of books on this topic. After an interesting conversation with my kiddo I discovered that I was reading books that reinforced my own perspective and didn’t’ challenge it (right as I’m telling the kiddo to make sure opposing arguments get their fair shake). So I went in search of another book that would challenge my own ideas of how kids should manage their tech.

I found a book that is really blowing some of the walls off of my preconceived notions (mixed metaphors there). The book is called “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” by Dana Boyd. This book looks from the kids perspective. It challenged the way I think about privacy, identity, and social media in particular. I discovered that the way I use my smartphone is not the way many kids use their smartphones. And I validated some of those studies with specific questions with my own kiddo. That does not mean kids aren’t out of balance with their tech, far from it, but they see social media as a much more positive part of their lives than I do my own. They aren’t wasting time on their devices nearly as much as I was before my personal intervention. It’s just the evolution of the old land-line, in a world that closes more and more of the public arena off from kids (even malls are shutting teens out in many cases). This book did not change my mind completely, but it gave me a wider view and added nuance to my own perspective, which was kind of the point of telling my kiddo to be open to other ideas.

My Home Screen

So in our house we try and be intentional about our phone use. It’s a constant battle with the kiddo, but it’s more about the battles than the war these days. And we are intentional about our conversations. I require that we speak face to face on a daily basis about topics that we are reading about, listening to on podcasts, or are talking with other people in our lives. And THAT has been the biggest success. By intentionally putting down the phone in order to talk to each other, we discover the value in face-to-face interactions, and grow closer, learning more about each other in the process. So that is my encouragement today. Taking phones away as a punishment isn’t probably going to work for real lasting change. I think it’s more important to make placing the phone down as a positive move to allow conversations that can lead to real lasting changes in our lives and the lives of our kiddos.

The Importance of Tears: Parenting with ADHD

Disclaimer: This was originally posted on Medium. As I start this new blog adventure, I felt the few posts I wrote there would make sense to include here.

For some reason that I can’t explain, tears seem to be important. Tears of joy. Tears of sorrow. Tears of remorse. Tears drawn from our laughter. Tears pulled from our pain. My life has been full of tears. I cry easily and at the most ridiculous things. An emotional manipulative car insurance commercial can get me. It always comes down to tears from one source or another.

As a Dad trying to figure out ADHD in my young kiddo, again tears seem important. But unlike all my other reasons for tears, something doesn’t click here. The other day my kid was really frustrating me. I can’t even remember exactly why. Probably related to our morning schedule and not getting up and moving fast enough. I finally had to put my foot down (not literally) to get the kid out of bed and up and running for the day. I was mad. My kiddo knew it. There was silence as we both got ready to head to school. In the car it was silent. All sorts of thoughts were screaming through my head. “Is this being taken seriously?” “Does my kid even feel bad for messing up the start of the day?” “Is there even a grasp of the idea of ‘starting on the wrong foot’?” And in silence we drove. In the past I would badger my kid with these questions. I’d use my “condescending parent voice” which is supposed to be full of knowing authority but really just makes you sound like an asshole. And almost always my child would break and there would be tears. And I would be satisfied, because in my mind tears meant the “lesson was learned”. Tears meant I’d made my point, stuck the landing, hit the target. Oh man, how wrong I was in that line of thinking.

On this drive I didn’t make the same mistake. I let the silence go on. And somehow in the midst of that silence I didn’t see a stubborn kid who needed to be “talked down to” by a parent. I didn’t see an oblivious kid who didn’t know what was wrong about that morning. What I saw was a kid sorting out the morning in their own time, in their own way. You see, my kid doesn’t need tears the way I do. And when the tears do come, they come for a better reason than an emotional commercial on television.

This is just another example of my attempts to be the parent my child needs me to be, which doesn’t always align with what I think I’m supposed to be. I have to know what makes my kid tick, not what makes me tick. And be a parent from that angle. I think too many times, we see the world through our own eyes, when we should try to see it through the eyes of our kiddos. And my child’s eyes are so much different from mine, and tears far less important. That doesn’t mean my kiddo doesn’t FEEL the same things I feel. It doesn’t mean that my kiddo doesn’t GET IT, when there’s a point to understand. Just that my kid processes things differently. More silently. Perhaps more thoughtfully. So I will keep trying my best to see things from this new viewpoint, and maybe tears won’t be so important anymore.

When “Different” is the new “Normal”: Parenting with ADHD

Disclaimer: This was originally posted on Medium in March 2018. As I start this new blog adventure, I felt the few posts I wrote there would make sense to include here.

I don’t like problems I can’t fix. I don’t like things that I can’t change. I don’t like contributing to someone else’s failure. I don’t like giving up without a fight.

These are all challenges I’ve had to confront as I’ve come around to the ADHD of my kid. I can’t fix this. I can’t change this. I contribute to my kiddo’s struggles with my own failures. And I feel like admitting it’s real, is giving up the fight for normal. These are my struggles. And they weigh on me.

I don’t want my child to be different. I’m okay with different, if that means weird hair colors and a bombastic form of individuality (which is very much my kiddo’s personality). By “different” I mean, different in how learning happens in school. I don’t want my kiddo to be behind other classmates. I don’t want homework to be impossibly difficult. I want a kid that is “normal”. These are OKAY things to want as a parent. Who wants their child to struggle with school? And lately I’ve felt myself shutdown a bit, the feeling that any action I take will only make my kid feel worse, or make me feel worse, or both. So I’ve chosen inaction, which turned out to be, you guessed it, the worst choice of all. I am teaching myself that when you don’t know what to do, just stop trying to do anything. And that will get translated to my child, one way or another.

So here is my Truth. At least the one for today that hopefully re-ignites my engines. My kiddo has ADHD. That means things will be harder and more work will be required. That’s the easy Truth. Here’s the harder one. My kiddo doesn’t see things the way that I do. My child needs more time to process things than I do; needs space and time alone. Needs my patience more than needs my advice. Needs my silence as much as my voice. Needs me to be less worried in the moment we are in, and just be in the moment we are in. Needs me to be okay with being different. Needs me to not see my adoption of this attitude as giving up on a normal child. My kid needs me to be happy with life the way that it is (knowing life is always a transition from one thing to the next).

I think a lot about the world. I think a lot about how we go about our days. I believe that the main goal of our lives is to be better tomorrow than we were today. And I am starting to realize how my desperate need to have a “normal” child is holding me back from this ultimate goal. The only way I can be better tomorrow, is to start by being my best self today. And my kid doesn’t need anything more from me than my attention, my patience, and my time. And so tomorrow I will hopefully look back on today with happiness that I was my best self, and then set out to be even better in all the days ahead.