The March break-up

How to say no to those pesky iPhones

Midtown Post - - Kids - JOANNE KATES

I have a ter­ri­ble mem­ory of March break the year my daugh­ter was 15. We — our fam­ily of four — are out for din­ner in Span­ish Town, Vir­gin Gorda, in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands. Sounds like a ham­burger in par­adise, right?

Just to set the scene, we’ve char­tered a live-aboard sail­boat for March break. A few years be­fore that my part­ner and I went to bare­boat char­ter school for a week so we could do this. We stretched to be able to af­ford the trip.

Then there was that night. We mostly cooked and ate on the boat when we sailed,be­cause eat­ing out was be­yond our bud­get. But that night, early on in the va­ca­tion, we de­cided din­ner out would be a treat for ev­ery­body.

And what does dar­ling daugh­ter do for the first hour of the din­ner? She sulks. I fi­nally get brave and ask what’s wrong. She says she didn’t want to come, that’s what wrong. Be­ing stuck with us is what’s wrong. Stuck? I cry. It’s aw­ful. She gets nicer. We have fun. End of story.

But for you, par­ent­ing to­day, the story is even worse. Be­cause you’re spend­ing March break with their iPhones. I’m guess­ing you’re not so happy about that, un­less of course you’re go­ing to spend March break on your de­vice too. In which case we should have a talk about what fam­ily is, and how you build one. Be­cause bi­ol­ogy doesn’t build a fam­ily. To­geth­er­ness does.

I am hear­ing con­stantly from par­ents of kids as young as eight that they — the par­ents, not the kids — are de­pressed about their kids’ de­vice ad­dic­tion and they don’t know what to do about it. If and when you take their phone away, kids will feel in­cred­i­bly lonely, be­cause it’s their life­line to their friends 24/7. We know it’s a lousy life­line, but they don’t know that. If we take it away, they lose their equi­lib­rium. Plus we all know how well pro­hi­bi­tion works.

So how to have a good March break, where the fam­ily spends time to­gether mi­nus the vir­tual bud­dies? Can you for­bid de­vices? Sure, if you want full-on re­bel­lion. Good luck with that.

I sug­gest a fam­ily meet­ing be­fore break, to dis­cuss this mat­ter and make a plan to­gether. Sit down and start by telling your kids your fears about what va­ca­tion will look like. Tell them how im­por­tant it is to you to have ac­tual fam­ily time. Tell them why. Let them hear your feel­ings, your wishes and your fears. This is not lec­tur­ing. This is not lay­ing down the law. This is be­ing open about feel­ings. It causes em­pa­thy in other hu­mans, even young ones. Do not lay down the law. If you do that it’s no longer a con­ver­sa­tion.

Hav­ing shared your wor­ries about va­ca­tion, tell them that you also have a hard time step­ping away from your de­vice. Most of us do. We’re ad­dicted too. Share that with your kids, that its hard for you too.

Then ask them to say some goals for the va­ca­tion, what they want out of it. Share what you want out of it. Then tell them what you’re wor­ried about and ask what they’re wor­ried about. And what they wish for from va­ca­tion. Un­der no cir­cum­stances are you to give in­struc­tions.

If you lis­ten in­tently, you’ll learned some­thing. So will the kids. Next con­duct a ne­go­ti­a­tion to come up with the rules for screen use on va­ca­tion. A ne­go­ti­a­tion is among equal part­ners. It is not a pro­nounce­ment by par­ents to kids. Where screens are con­cerned, those don’t work. Then write down the rules you’ve all agreed on. On pa­per. With a pen.

Bring them along. You’ll need them.

It’s im­per­a­tive both you and those kids learn to step away

Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the ar­eas of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the direc­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park.

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