I’ve received many reader questions on this topic over the years, and just discussed them again this week in a Q&A session after an online talk I gave to a parent group, so I figured it would be a good time to go ahead and get it in a post.
Here goes . . .
Q: Do your kids have phones? Do they have smartphones and social media accounts? What kind of access do your younger kids have to devices? How do you manage peer pressure and kids’ desire for technology vs what you want for them as a parent?
A: The older kids do. Only the eighteen-year-old. None. What I think is right as a parent wins every time over what my kids think they should have and ESPECIALLY over what other people’s kids think my kids should have.
That’s the short version. The long version is that I know that this is a sensitive subject and I’m not here to cast aspersions on decisions that other people have made for their own families. If you are doing something that’s working for you, that’s good. Feel free to just scroll on down to read about how you guys crashed my IT guy’s server and how Emily and I are scrambling to try to make more box subscriptions available. But for those of you who maybe aren’t feeling great about decisions you’ve made, or those of you who are facing these decisions in the future, I’d like to share a little about what didn’t work for our family and what seems to be working now.
First off, I’ll say that I don’t think that the way we as a society are currently using technology—and specifically our phones—is the way that we always will. What society sees as a normal, healthy activity changes as we see its long-term consequences. Even very entrenched behavior patterns change with time. When I see photos of people in groups and at parties all holding their phones, I think of how in photos of previous generations everyone in groups and at parties was smoking. Then, eventually, we all decided that smoking wasn’t necessarily a great lifestyle choice and now, most group photos don’t feature everyone holding a cigarette.
We aren’t bound to make choices for ourselves and our kids based on what everyone else happens to think is a good idea at this particular moment in time. As Catholics, we have an eternal perspective. So, with that in mind, we’ve made some eternally-minded counter-cultural choices for our family.
None of our minor children have smartphones. Our older teenagers have flip phones. Our younger teenagers have Kindles. Our kids under thirteen don’t have access to cell phones or iPads. We have . . . a landline telephone. One. With a cord. On a wall in the living room. (It’s also a rotary dial, just to really commit to this thing. #notkidding)
Like most counter-cultural choices, these were a bit of a leap and a bit of a process for us. When my oldest kids were little, we had an iPad for them. We incorporated it into our homeschool day. The school-aged kids had some educational games they were allowed to play on it. The toddlers had some swipey Duplo games they were allowed to play while the older kids did school. It seemed like a good plan.
But it was not a success. My school-aged kids did not learn anything meaningful on the iPad. Full disclosure: they did win a presidential trivia competition at the Reagan Library based on knowledge gained from a game called Presidents vs Aliens, but that’s really the best we can claim. On the horrifying side, they were exposed to explicit cartoons that they accidentally happened upon.
My toddlers were not made less distracting or troublesome by the iPad. In fact, the very existence of the iPad, and the possibility that one might be granted access to it, became foremost in their minds. They exhibited addictive behaviors around it. They would fiend for it. It was a source of unhappiness and conflict.
So, now, none of the kids under thirteen in my house have access to devices. We just went cold turkey on it about six years ago and never looked back. I never, ever hand my phone to my babies, toddlers, or kids. Ever. (It’s a standard, Always Mean What You Say, “not for babies” situation.) They have limited community-only access to TV and video games, but no access to personal screens. They get to be kids without the burden of the desire to be iPadding.
Eventually, we start stair-stepping them up in supervised access to devices, in a way that we hope encourages their responsible use.
At about thirteen, our kids get access to an ad-free Kindle tablet. They can use it for ebooks, audiobooks, music, and email. We use parental controls to turn off the internet browser and app store, and we set a curfew on it, so it’s not accessible when they should be sleeping or doing school. There is a stated policy of no expectation of privacy on devices around here. They belong to mom and dad, and we have complete access to everything on them. We understand that the kids certainly could find inappropriate material on them, even with access to only the aforementioned platforms, so we talk to them about pornography and why it’s so devastating, we show them this video by Fight the New Drug, and we monitor their use as much as possible.
If Kindle-users around here misuse them or are unable to avoid temptation or if they need more time to focus on school or getting to their chores, the Kindle goes away for a time.
At about sixteen, our kids get an old-school flip phone. They can use it for phone calls and texts. The browser is disabled if possible, otherwise it’s just off-limits. (We have a freestanding GPS in the car for navigating.) They are required to be accessible by phone when away from home (which means remembering to keep it charged and bring it along and answer it when possible) and to respond to texts from mom and dad in a timely manner. They (and the younger teens) also have access to some computer-based google chats with classmates, also with the understanding that they are not private, and that access to them is dependent on appropriate and charitable use. But that’s it. They get to be teens without the burden of social media.
At about eighteen, our oldest got an iPhone and got to choose whether or not to join social media. He has a couple accounts, but isn’t a big user of social media, which I think is a good choice for a college student. I first got on social media at thirty-seven, which seems about right to me, but we watched The Social Dilemma together, then left the decision up to him.
Of course, our parenting decisions change based on the needs of individual kids and particular circumstances. But this parenting decision that seemed crazy and unusual at the time, and—I guess—was, has turned out to feel like one of our all-time best. It’s really been a way to help safeguard our kids and their free time in an era when busyness reigns and bullies are faceless and childhood innocence is often lost early. Fortunately, Tierneys have a strong family culture and are not beholden to “everybody else is doing it.” And we are really blessed to have a great school and community around us in which our kids are NOT actually the only kids without access to smartphones. I mean, we’d still do what we think is right, but it IS nice to have that backup.
So, if you’re considering undevicing your little kids, and taking it slow with older kids and phones, I say: Do it. Ten out of ten. Would recommend.
P.S. Here’s the deal with the subscription boxes . . .
Emily and I have been working hard on planning and prototyping these boxes for many weeks. I’ve never done a stocked physical product launch, let alone something as expensive and long-term as this so I didn’t know what to expect as far as numbers. We figured we’d sell at least fifty and were shooting for a hundred. In one day, despite the site crashing multiple times, we sold 450 subscriptions and had to shut it down. I know many of you are disappointed that you didn’t get one. We’ve been scrambling to source enough of all of our Lent box items, especially since many are from smaller Catholic makers or created by us, and to work out the logistics of packing and shipping at this volume, so we really needed to have a set number and get to work on them.
I told many of you who messaged or emailed that subscriptions would be closed until the Advent box. But . . . we really do want to be able to make these resources available to as many people as possible. So, as soon as we’ve got the Lent box under control, we are going to look at opening up subscriptions again before the Triduum box.
We are finding more help to make it possible, but we still won’t be able to offer unlimited subscriptions. Catholic All Year Members will have early access to new subscription windows, as well as to limited-edition wooden devotional sets like the soon-to-launch Tabletop Stations of the Cross sets, so if you are interested in the monthly printable liturgical living resources and discounts available there, this is an added perk. There are also some great bonuses available for signing up for Membership before March 1, including access to a liturgical year google calendar, and a Recipe Keeper Binder (at some levels) perfect for storing the recipe cards that come in the subscription boxes.
One more note: This is our first time undertaking a project this big and complicated. There were bound to be some mistakes along the way, and we have already discovered that we made some important miscalculations regarding shipping. We are honoring the free shipping we offered on the first box, but on boxes going forward, and on new subscriptions, there will be a flat-rate $5 shipping charge per box. You can always cancel your subscription between boxes. But I hope you won’t! And for those of you who won’t be able to get a subscription for one reason or another, we hope to offer some limited-edition products from the boxes that you can’t get anywhere else.
Thanks for your understanding, and for your support!