The decision will be a painful one, and either way, nobody will be ready for it.
I’m not talking about how we will solve climate change, or how we will heal the political divide in our country. I’m talking about something much more urgent: the decision to give our children their own phones.
My kids are now 13, 10 and 8, soon to be 13, 11 and 27. Strangely, the only one with a phone is my middle child, who has an old iPhone that we have converted into an iPod touch by canceling the cellular plan on it. She can do everything she wants with it as long as she is connected to wi-fi, except make voice calls. She can even do FaceTime with friends.
We have told our 13-year-old son that we will get him a phone by the time he starts high school next fall. Our 10-year-old daughter will also get a newer used phone when she starts middle school next year, and she will bequeath her current non-phone iPhone to her younger sister. Then we can all just tune in and tune out.
Ah, today’s happy family life.
As someone whose first electronics game was Pong and who left for grad school (not college) with his first computer—a Leading Edge Model D with 30MB of hard drive and 256K of RAM that upgraded to 640K—I feel like I’m living in a different world not only from my kids but also from the kids who are now of working age and working alongside me. It’s as though they came out of the womb with one thumb in their mouths and the other on a smartphone keyboard.
I am long past worrying whether my kids will be addicted to technology, because that upgrade has shipped and sailed. My wife and I appear resigned to this addition, because we bought my son a PC for playing Geometry Dash and other games for his Bar Mitzvah, and as long as I have a work machine to use, my daughters use my old Mac for Roblox and whatever other games they’re playing. At least my son balances his gamesmanship with Khan Academy math-building skills. But sometimes we feel the need to have a non-electronics day and just drag them out of the house, which we try to do at least twice a millennium.
This situation—and our hesitation to encourage more use of technology—is made more challenging by our son being on the autism spectrum, plus both he and our younger daughter have ADHD as well. I guess they’re just readying themselves for today’s modern workplace. It appears to be the norm that when you call a meeting in today’s business world, people remain on their phones, checked out, only to inform you without a sense of shame or irony that they weren’t paying attention. I read the other day that merely having your phone near you can disrupt your thinking, make you less productive and reduce your overall brain power. When I researched this story further, I learned it was actually more than a year old and based on a study published by University of Chicago Press. Maybe the news outlet missed it earlier because they were on their phones.
I sometimes look at my son and wonder whether his condition is a disability or step in human evolution. We’re addressing his social challenges through a number of interventions, while we have no need to address his asocial, technical challenges. He’s totally plugged in already. He’s ready for the wearable tech.
So I guess my wife and I are just yielding. I’ll report results to amuse and frustrate you, if you’re interested. That is, if I can stop looking at sports scores and news alerts on my phone. Gotta go!