No Electronics for You!

As a parent of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, I can attest to the validity of an article in The Washington Post yesterday about new punishment techniques.

Donna St. George’s article is headlined “A new-age twist on the age-old parenting technique of grounding.”  She talks about a range of punishments from no cell phone, to no Facebook, to no Xbox.  She cites a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that says 62% of parents have taken away their child’s cell phone as punishment.  Mrs. Spidey and I are part of the 62%.

In our household, we have an escalating scale of punishments related to electronics.  Typically, these are doled out due to lack of focus on schoolwork.  Sometimes, however, as St. George reveals in one anecdote in the article, we punish for “lapse in good judgment.”  The scale is roughly as follows:

The Ultimate Punishment

  • No computer for the rest of the day
  • No computer or television for the rest of the day
  • No electronics for the rest of the day
  • No electronics for an extended period
  • Changing the password log-in on the computer
  • Removal and hiding of the power cords to the computer, Xbox, television
  • Taking away the iPod and/or phone

Note the progression.  When banning isn’t enough, parents have to prevent children from accessing electronics, whether by changing passwords or taking the power cords.

The worst, however, is taking away a child’s music and telephone.  This means no texting, no walking around with headphones in, and no mobile Facebook.  In sum, this means social isolation, which is really the intent of grounding.

Unfortunately, taking away a child’s phone is also a punishment to the parents.  When children don’t have a phone, they can’t call to be picked up, and they generally can’t be found.

As the article describes, old-fashioned grounding just doesn’t work any more.  To make children feel the impact of their educational failures or “lapses in good judgment,” parents have to hit children where it hurts – smack in the middle of their electronics.

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Welcome Home, Kids. See You Later.

Last Friday, my two kids came back from four weeks at sleep-away camp.  We picked them up around lunch time, went out for a quick bite at Moe’s, and then headed home.  It was probably around 2:00pm when we got back to the house.

By 2:30pm, the house was back to its pre-camp rhythms.  Both kids were on Facebook.  My son was simultaneously configuring iTunes to sync up his iPhone for the first time in a month.  Text messages were flying back and forth between them and their friends, and plans were being made for that evening.  Indeed, despite just a few hours sleep the night before, my son went out with his friends to see The Other Guys that night.

In reality, as other parents know, the Facebook and the texting started long before they got home.  My son received his iPhone back as the bus left camp to return to St. Louis and had been on Facebook ever since.  My daughter got her phone back at the bus, courtesy of my wife.  There had been little conversation with the kids during the ride from Moe’s to home, as their heads were buried in their phones.

Common Scene at Our House. But That's O.K.

(The only thing that seemed odd to me is that they were texting and communicating on Facebook with the very kids they were with the previous four weeks.  There are some things I won’t understand as a parent.)

Our family had quickly settled right back to where we were on July 11, the night before the kids left for camp.  It’s as if all was right back in place.  That meant that we had to say goodbye to our kids once again.

We say goodbye as they go off with their friends.  We say goodbye as their friends come over to our house, and they huddle in the basement playing video games (boys) or in the bathroom trying out make-up (girls).  We say goodbye as they head off to marching band practice, to ice hockey practice and to cheerleading practice, all of which have started before classes.  Next week, we will say goodbye as they head to school, and we head to work.

As parents, we want to say goodbye.  We know that being online, participating in activities and socializing are what being 12 and being 15 is about.  We know that family activities will happen more rarely as time goes on.  We know we need to plan those activities and family dinners well in advance.

So, as we move towards the start of another school year our kids are back, and they are gone.  Life is as it should be.