“From there to here and here to there. Funny things are everywhere.” Dr. Seuss.
“In an age where technology is increasing faster than parents can keep up, how do we appropriately guide our teenagers toward safe and responsible use of their phones, the internet, games, movies, and media?” I asked Mark Gregston in a crowded room of interested parents. I was ready with pen in hand for his three step answer.
Mark, who runs Heartlight, a residential home for teens from good homes who have taken a wrong turn, did not answer as I had hoped. His forty years of experience with one-on-one teenagers has taught him better. In his cowboy boots and jeans (he is from Texas, by golly), he stood on one side of the podium. “When they are thirteen, your kids are here. You give them a phone or a device and you have all the tracking and monitoring and protection you can muster.” He walked about ten steps toward the other side of the room, “and when they are eighteen, they are here. You don’t see or check any of their history, texts, or social media. It is your job to get them to here.” Pen still in hand, I was crushed. I wanted a simple answer. Two girls entering high school and one in middle school. Kindles for school that had web browsers and the influx of the iPhone and the iPod were about to take me under. The idea of all the protection, monitoring, password changes and permissions was a full time job that I didn’t have time to do. What I really wanted was a formula to protect my kids from all things evil that I could imagine infiltrating our home via the World Wide Web.
One thing I have always loved about Mark Gregston (aside from his handlebar mustache) is his wisdom. Having written 12 parenting books, “parented” hundreds of wayward teens, and speaking to parents daily through his radio broadcasts, he has heard it all. He knows something that those of us in the trenches with our first (or second or third) child just can’t see – that it all works out over time and that leaning into the relationship is always the best choice. But where does that leave those of us who are tired of granting more screen time and frustrated when we find Netflix suggesting R rated movies to us “because you have watched…”?
The “advice” I took away from this seemingly unsatisfying exchange was actually what I needed to hear – and maybe you do too. Be present. Pay attention to the little things. Don’t parent out of fear, but engage your child in conversation. Through coming to solutions together, rather than throwing down a list of rules, you will achieve your goal of raising an adult who can think for himself.
I believe Mark’s physical walking from one spot to another is a tangible way to view our parenting journey. We are watching our children, our babies, grow up before our very eyes. We desperately want to cling to them, to the memories of their cutest small selves and the things they used to say. But we are torn between remembering their precious childhood and desperately desiring their responsible adulthood. We want them to move out, get their own life, manage their own finances, and know how to acquire their own car and health insurance. But in the same moment, we also know the incredible high we get as the “omnipotent Oz,” the one who can solve any problem and knows all the answers. It is here, in this tension, we stand. Between the memory of the thirteen year old new teen and the eighteen year old budding adult. So what is one thing we can do to step back from here so they can step forward and move toward there?