Hey kids — cell phones are a privilege

For anyone with kids at home, the recent lockdowns have been especially challenging. Between Zoom school, lack of social activities, and the refrigerator that can never stay full, we can all agree that this situation is less than ideal. As parents, many of us have become a bit more relaxed about the normal limitations on “fun” home-based activities such as video games, Netflix, and cell phone usage. Let’s face it, if our kids are not occupied, it means more work for the parents, which is tough, especially as many of us are also trying to do our work.

While the cell phones and PlayStation consoles certainly do have their uses, let’s make sure that our kids realize that these devices are not a right. A phone is not as important as food on the table or a roof over their heads, even if our teenagers may think otherwise. With these ideas in mind, we instituted what should have been an obvious house rule, that phones cannot be brought to the dinner table. This rule sounds reasonable enough (at least to me), but it took my kids a long time to accept this seemingly simple policy. First, they tried to argue that we had no right to limit their phone use. Anyone who knows me personally, knows that this argument did not get them very far. Next, they tried to equate their phone use, which in the evenings is mostly entertainment based, with my phone use, which is almost entirely work related. Well, this argument did not get them much further. So, while the new rule stuck, there were definitely some unhappy members of our household.

A few nights into this new policy, one of my kids decided to try to push the limits. When I reminded him to put his phone away, I got the famous “2 more minutes” response. Well, I like to think that I am at least semi-reasonable, and I waited the 2 minutes. The problem though must be my math skills, as my 2 minutes seemed a lot shorter than my son’s 2 minutes. After a few more times of saying “put it away,” it finally happened…. I snapped and grabbed the phone out of his hand and walked out of the house. Okay, so maybe this was not parenting at its best, but I had reached the last straw. Let’s all admit that school at home has not exactly taxed our kids intellectually and that with limited social options, devices such as the phones have become even more of a fixture than before. Asking them to put down the darn phones for 30 minutes of family time did not seem like such an unreasonable request.

Well, while I stand by my decision to take my son’s phone away, my actions definitely had some ripple effects. First, despite an official school policy that all work and class information must be posted to Google Classroom, I learned very quickly that not all my son’s teachers are too concerned with this particular policy. Instead, these teachers regularly send information on WhatsApp, which assumes that everyone in the class has access to a Smartphone. Maybe this is a good topic for a future blog post, but for my son, having a mean father did create some academic challenges. Second, even though my son cannot see his friends in person, I was surprised by how much they rely on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram to talk to each other. When I told my son to email his friends, he responded by saying that he never sends emails. Third, my son had made a lot of progress in a number of online games. Not having access to his phone could jeopardize scores and standings. While personally, I care the least about this item, for a 13 year old, these things matter a lot.

So, what do I do now? Do I give in to my son and give him back his phone? Or, do I hold firm and make my point that rules have to be followed and that phone usage was not a right? Originally, I was going to keep the phone for 2 weeks (yeah, I was angry!), but my level headed wife talked me down to a week. My wife has been a bit nicer than I am (what else is new?) and has provided my son with some of his academic related WhatsApp information. The rest though is off limits for the next few days. Yes, this does make the close quarters situation more challenging, but it was time to remind my kids that there were rules that needed to be followed and that certain minimal expectations do exist, even during a lockdown.

As for my son, I do feel for him a bit, as he is, at least to a certain extent cut off from part of his world. I hope though that both of my teenage kids now realize that phone usage is a privledge. Like with other privileges, if they don’t follow the rules, it gets taken away. I am sure that as the parent, I will pay for this decision even after I give the phone back. For my kids though, I hope that this can help serve as a life lesson.

Here’s hoping we can soon get back outside and be able to all put our phones down together!

About the Author
Aryeh Eisenberg is the CEO and General Manager of Edu-Together, an online education technology provider for schools and individuals. Based in Israel, Edu-Together works with students all over the world.
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