Forget about “Power to the People.” How about “Power to the Parents”?
Last week, The Washington Post profiled a local adolescent girl in a piece called “13, Right Now: This is what it’s like to grow up in the age of likes, lols and longing.” The article was horrifying in so many ways: It focused on a 13-year-old who had recently lost her mother to breast cancer and who spent every spare moment checking her popularity on a phone.
She told the interviewer: “I don’t feel like a child anymore . . . I’m not doing anything childish.” When all her friends got phones and went on social media, she says, “I just stopped doing everything I normally did. Playing games at recess, playing with toys, all of it, done.”
Her father, meanwhile, seemed at a loss for what to do. Unsure quite how to monitor his daughter’s behavior, he used parental controls to turn off her phone at night — but then turned it back on, apparently for no reason.
It’s not unusual to find that parents of teenagers have thrown their hands up when it comes to giving their kids access to technology and monitoring it. What’s worse now is that even parents who recognize the problems with this approach throw their hands up much earlier.
Linking to the Washington Post story on Facebook, a friend wrote: “I shared this story with my husband, who immediately said of our 12-week-old daughter, ‘She is never getting a smartphone.’ We will see how long that lasts!”
This is a pretty typical reaction among sensible adults.
At first, they express shock and dismay, and say they’ll try to do better, that there’s something wrong with giving a 13-year-old complete access to the Internet, that she shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about whether her friends are liking her selfies.
But then these same parents quickly adopt a tone of defeat. “We will see how long that lasts.” For some of these new mothers and fathers with younger children, this might seem like an exercise in humility. Sure it’s easy for me to say I won’t give my kid an iPhone, when I only have an infant.
If they said anything different, there would be a snippy comment from some acquaintance. “Oh yeah, wait till you have a 12-year-old. Then we’ll talk.” Parents of older children like to pretend that there’s an air of inevitability to giving their kids smart phones.
First, they explain that it’s just impractical for a child beyond elementary school not to have a phone. How will you get in touch with them when the carpool plan changes? What if someone tries to snatch them off the street on the way to school? What happens if the school bus gets stuck in a blizzard?
If you press them on how kids got along without these devices in the past, they tell you times have changed. If you ask them why a simple flip phone would be insufficient, they say there’s no point in going against the tide. What? Are you going to make your child the least popular kid in sixth grade?
A few short years ago, most of these parents wouldn’t have dreamed of handing over the keys to the Internet to their children, either. But then resistance started to seem futile.
In his book, “The Collapse of Parenting,” psychiatrist Leonard Sax describes how parents have caved to their children’s demands because they think their children are demonstrating independence or because they want their children to have friends.
But at least part of the reason for the collapse is that all of the other mothers and fathers seem to have folded like cheap suits.
Whether it comes to curbing technology or limiting snacks or enforcing a bedtime or encouraging regular attendance at a religious service, it’s our fellow parents (particularly those with older kids) who are turning into our worst enemies.
Maybe it’s too much to expect any kind of parent solidarity. But it would be nice if adults could present a more united front. A critical mass of parents saying no would surely make all of our jobs easier.
No doubt experience teaches parents that kids aren’t as easily molded as we once imagined. But so much of our willpower seems to be sapped by others who have just given up and can’t wait to see us do so as well.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.