Has your teenager ever told you to give them space? I know mine have. It's funny how we tend to spend so much time trying to protect and shield them from danger when they're little. We can soon forget as the fences of childhood come down, and gates open wide that real protection comes from within.
When they've figured out how to handle themselves outside our walls.
I wish I could say I have this parenting thing down. God knows, I don't. But as I was talking to a friend recently about her 11-year-old, she expressed the fact that she's one of the only parents holding out on the cell phone game. My advice to her, knowing her son, was "Hold out if you can. But it's okay if you can't." I have three kids, and honestly, they got cell phones at different ages along with different needs. I don't think there's a magic number we can claim is best to hand over a device that grants access to the world through word, sound, and image. But what I do know is this: social media and technology complicate a kid's life. They complicate ours. Pocket devices invade space in our lives that used to remain open for adventure, for rest, for listening, for creativity, for simply being present with the people around us. I'm not one to demonize the use of them! But I am one to crave balance. And I think conversation is a powerful thing when trying to understand the things that change us as society evolves.
My passion as a parent is finding ways to struggle through imbalance to embrace peace for ourselves and our kids as we guide them into a wider world than we could have imagined needing to prepare them for! So, from my perspective as their mom, social media notifications in our lives are the most disrupting things to our private space–both mental and physical–at the simple ding of a single chime.
I'm not trying to advocate for extreme momma-bearing. Or having an active fear that our children are always doing something unseemly on their phones. I'm just saying there's a correlation to the feelings they have and their social media mindset. If it affects me, I know it affects them.
And we need to talk about it.
If you've taken the time to check out my course on parenting, you'll know I've talked about each of my three children struggling with anxiety.
My daughter, now in her early twenties, was fifteen when we started to notice some heightened insecurities and anxiety. She was exploring social media for the first time before multiple platforms became standard use in all of our lives. Today, she builds her business on Instagram, uses a private account to show some fun moments of her life, and has developed a healthy relationship with general social media practice. It didn't come naturally. We had to learn how to deal with this new element of life as she became a young woman. And now, it holds proper space in her life.
But we had to observe and learn–and sometimes impose–so that she could ultimately come into the newfound world of online living.
Here's the thing. As kids, teens, and young adults ourselves, we didn't live that way. We used to have to pull our rotary phone from the kitchen into our bedroom to gain a little privacy when the high school boyfriend called. And thanks to DJ Tanner, we somehow convinced daddy to give us a private line to be wired directly to our bedroom. But mom would always hear the phone ring, and we'd be given a space of thirty minutes to talk on weeknights.
We had to watch TV and wait through commercials (the absolute WORST). We'd gather our college buddies to view weekly episodes of Friends, unable to binge watch that or any show until a Saturday marathon. We walked into our homes where the telephone would ring a time or two an evening, a pager might buzz if someone was on call, and the closed-door behind us meant we were in our own space. The world had no access. We had come to our oasis in order to refuel. We were home.
If I sound nostalgic, maybe I am a little. But I don't truly miss those days of lesser convenience. I love the pros of both social media and technology. It's how I get to be friends with you, and how I manage my time each and every day! But what we can sometimes miss as parents is the need for intentionality that doesn't come naturally. How can it?
We haven't been here before.
We're just winging it because this way of living isn't what grandma could've taught us. And maybe that's a factor for every generation, but it feels like this one is on fast-forward. It may be hard to keep up with it all–no, let me rephrase. It's impossible to keep up with it all, but I believe that we can be aware and prepare together as challenges arise.
We can give ourselves and our kids some space.
They need it. And so do we.
So, here are a few tips that have worked for us. And don't get me wrong. I sometimes suck at remembering these boundaries and said teenagers are not going to remind me. I fall asleep with my phone next to my bed and spend too much time on it some days. So, there's an element of "we're all in this together", amiright? Be gracious with yourself and them.
Try to have a charging station in a place away from all sleeping quarters.
Deactivate social media accounts when needed–this may vary by child. For one of my children, the trigger was Snapchat for a time, for another, it was Instagram. Talk about it, change the password to something only you have access to, and agree on a time to reenter the platform with parental right to veto if need be.
Create a space of quiet somewhere (even if only for an agreed-upon amount of time) without X-box access to all the fighters in the world. No phones allowed to buzz our texts and snaps throughout the night. A place to truly be undisturbed. And do something they find fun/interesting. (We're partial to board games!)
Have them help you design their bedroom in a way that relaxes and soothes them. And keep the rules of no phones overnight. But when you don't, communicate why you think it's important and try again.
Go on a walk with them and implement a no-headphones rule. GASP! It can be done, promise.
Don't just ban all the things–this stuff isn't going anywhere. If your kids have access to a smartphone, have open conversations about it and try to learn their apps and use them too. Mom may be a lame Snapchatter, but it can be funny now and then, and they don't hate it as much as they say they do.
Using their apps can also be helpful if your child is a victim of online bullying. You can more easily keep track of spam accounts kids use for these tactics and be more informed about the conversation.
Be that parent who always introduces herself to parents in your child's friend group. It's okay if we at least attempt to know each other. Even in high school. They'll be fine.
Talk to a counselor, doctor, or therapist. If extreme anxiety is your challenge, please seek professional help. In our family, we have and do. We all need it.
And maybe this isn't news to you. We've heard it all before, and yet...how tired are we? Where is our happy place? Maybe this is simply a little reminder that we all need a reset now and then. Regroup. Reassess. Be aware of what's happening in the moments of our lives.
May you find and create space for peace today, parent-friend.