I am not a scientist.
I am not a researcher.
But you don’t have to be a researcher to draw some accurate conclusions.
And I can tell you with 100% certainty the exact moment when a dramatic decrease in the amount of time I spent engaging in meaningful conversation or activity with Number 3 occurred.
It was the moment he received a cell phone.
That was about a year ago.
I am one of those parents who holds out on the cell phone until my kids are 13.
Or even later.
My son was three months from his 14th birthday when I got him a phone. And I would have held out longer if he wasn’t going away on a class trip to Washington D.C. where he would be gone for three days.
The changes made due to receiving a cell phone became obvious almost immediately.
We used to swim on a swim team that was a 45 minute drive from our house.
When we first started on this team, Number 3 was 12 years old. On the way to swim practice he would sit in the front seat and we would talk the whole way to practice.
This continued for over a year. We’d talk about school or swimming or anything, really.
We had some really great conversations.
I remember thinking how, when we switched from a swim team that was close to our house to the one that was 45 minutes away how the drive would suck.
But honestly, it created 45 minutes of conversation for me and my 8th grader every day.
How awesome is it to have daily 45-minute conversations with your 13-year-old son? Not many moms can say they do that!
It was pretty awesome.
Then he got the cell phone.
And instead of engaging in conversation and connecting with me, he began to spend the majority of the drives to swim practice with his head buried in his phone.
I supposed I could have told him he couldn’t use his phone in the car. But those pre-cell phone conversations were so organic. And I didn’t want to force conversations.
But then something else happened.
When the frequency and duration of our conversations decreased, an attitude that I don’t particularly care for increased.
There was an inverse relationship between respectful communication and time spent on the phone.
It wasn’t until just recently that this really became crystal clear.
For most of the month of April and the beginning of May, with routines upended and life thrown into a totally new normal, I let my freshman in high school keep to himself as much as he wanted.
He was almost always on his phone, mostly splitting time between House Party and YouTube.
The longer that happened, the worse attitude and behavior became.
The normal reaction might be to take the phone away. To restrict access.
But what I realized was that it wasn’t really the phone that was the problem.
The problem was lack of connection.
While the younger kids were incessantly vocal about their desire for attention, the older kids were not.
But just because they don’t vocalize something doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I’ve only realized this in hindsight.
With more time on our hands, I started taking Number 3 to practice driving.
We only go to a parking lot. And we only go when it’s completely empty.
But this has been a nice opportunity for us to spend some one-on-one time together, away from anyone else at home.
It’s nothing major, but it’s connection.
And as soon as the driving lessons started, the attitude started showing up less and less.
In fact, it led to something else.
It led to Number 3 asking me if I’d watch Outer Banks with him.
Every night I watch Little House On The Prairie with Number 5 and 7. They love it.
We are currently watching season 8.
Number 3 is a little too cool for Little House On The Prairie.
So he’s been holed up in his room watching stupid YouTubers while I watch LHOTP with the girls.
Now I watch LHOTP with the girls, get them into bed, and then watch an episode of Outer Banks with Number 3 and 4.
These two ways of connecting with Number 3 have had a big impact on how we interact.
This isn’t rocket science. It’s obvious.
But in the moment, I think it’s easy for your vision to get cloudy and for you to not realize what you’ve been doing.
Kind of like when your kids are growing and you don’t notice it because you are too close to it.
I also think it’s easy as parents to think our kids don’t want to spend time with us when they get older.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Sometimes they just don’t know how to ask.
And it’s the behavior that is driving us crazy which is actually just screaming at us with a megaphone.
Number 3 won’t be getting his license anytime soon. So the driving connection will be around for a while.
But we only have two episodes of Outer Banks left.
And once we finish watching that, the first thing I’m going to do is make sure I replace that avenue of connection with something else.
I don’t know how many teenage soap operas I can handle, though.
So maybe next I’ll teach him how to play all the classic card games.
I mean, he’s considering becoming a lifeguard once he’s 16. And if he’s gonna do that, playing cards is kind of a prerequisite.
Whatever we end up doing, what I’ve been reminded of over the past eleven weeks is that our kids communicate with us in all sorts of ways.
They may not use words. They may sigh heavily. They may roll their eyes. They may slam some doors.
But every action is communication.
And (re)connecting with my 14-year-old has been one of the best things to come out of the last couple months.
So I guess 2020 isn’t all bad after all.
I love this article. I never really thought about changing behaviour through doing something and reconnecting with your child rather than taking something (read device) away. I have an 8 year old that is more or less an only child (3 much older siblings who don’t want to play with him) and we live in quite an isolated spot. Through lockdown he has turned to his iPad more and more and with it, his attitude has changed. Rather than just simply take it off him, I will now look for ways that we can connect.