Let's Bring Back Phones with Cords! by Erika Guy, Dean of Students
For a long time, I thought that the single greatest triumph of my adolescence was convincing my parents that I needed a phone extension in my upstairs bedroom. At the time, we had but one phone in the house (we did not call it a “land line” - it was simply “the phone”). I achieved this landmark social advancement by making a compelling argument that a) our kitchen was too small for me to be on the phone (getting my homework assignments, of course) while all of the other kitchen activities were going on and b) that the upstairs needed an extension since no one in our family could, no matter how speedy, make it down to the kitchen in time to answer those vital incoming calls. Somehow, my reluctant parents acquiesced, and that moment marked a major social long jump for me.
Before long I was spending hours on that phone. I walked home from school every day with the same group of girls. The moment after I arrived home, I headed to my second floor lair, where I immediately phoned by best friend Linda. I had left Linda just moments before on the sidewalk in front of my house. I cannot recall much of the content of those hours of talk, but I do remember the duration and the seeming importance of our telephone connection to one another. After about a month of this, my parents began fielding complaints about endless busy signals from friends and relatives. Their strategy was to impose time limits on calls that came in but I quickly learned that while they noted incoming calls, they had absolutely no clue as to when I dialed out. The Waterloo moment came late in the fall when on a rainy and cold afternoon, I asked Linda to “just hold on” while I went to take a warm shower. As adolescents are inclined, I completely forgot that I was still tethered to Linda and what was even more adolescently predictable, was that Linda never questioned it. She went about her business with the phone tucked into her shoulder, patiently waiting for me to return. By the time I made it back to my pink princess phone after dinner, over 3 hours had elapsed but Linda was still there. My uncle arrived at our front door to deliver some important news from my Mom’s family in Switzerland. He had been trying to call us for two hours. I knew I was toast. The solution for my parents was so very simple: they executed an immediate phone-ectomy. It was painful and it was permanent. Aaaaah, those were the heydays of parenting.
The challenges my parents faced were simpler: busy signals, siblings competing for phone time, kids distracted by other kids via land line phone technology, etc. The advantage was that we were tethered and parental monitoring of adolescent behavior was a much smaller game. While acknowledging the breadth of the 2010 version of the parental challenge, fear not, for you are not without options and resources:
1) Ask your child to surrender his/her cell phones during your family’s evening study hours. Texting can be SUCH a distraction/temptation during time that should be focused.
2) Have your children do their studying in a “public” family place.
3) TALK with your kids about the risks, the temptations, the bottomless pit of wasted time that the internet can be.
4) Stay informed about what is out there. A good place to start: http://wiredkids.org/parents/parentingonline/index.html.
Microsoft also offers a free ebook about cyber security: Own Your Space - Keep Yourself and Your Stuff Safe Online by Linda McCarthy. This is a digital book.
5) Parental monitoring software programs (i.e. Webwatcher) are often the first line of defense for parents. There are countless versions of this type of blocking software but I am of the strong belief that fences (blocking software) encourage and promote tunneling. These kinds of cat and mouse games are challenges to kids and chances are, you will lose.
In addition to the perennial challenges that adolescents face (under-developed frontal lobes, over-active hormones, short spans of attention, etc.), the digital distractions that now exist only exacerbate the competition for their time and attention. Do what you can to help them self-monitor. Chances are if they find themselves running out of time during their nightly homework sessions, a searching and fearless inventory of their time management may reveal that they have Facebooked/Tweeted/or texted away a considerable portion of that precious time.
Thanks for reading,