The March break-up
How to say no to those pesky iPhones
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.