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Saturday, August 15, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: With new technology comes greater parental control

UPDATED: Mon., July 27, 2020

By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

If you saw demons from another realm circling in a menacing manner over a house in Spokane Valley last week, know that it was just the result of the Dittos opening Pandora’s box: We have finally allowed our two oldest children to have smartphones.

Lucy and George are 16 and 15 – well past the point that most kids get a smartphone nowadays – but we dragged our feet for years, forcing them to live like virtual cave dwellers without smart devices of their own.

It’s not that Logan and I are anti-technology. Both of us have iPhones and use them all day long for a million tasks. And while I might skew more “analog,” Logan is definitely in the “early adopter” camp when it comes to new gadgets, so it was fairly painful for him to wait this long to share the glories of the iPhone with his children.

But smartphones come with a lot of baggage (social media, nonstop texting, YouTube videos that are so inane that, as a parent, you literally can’t stop your eyes from rolling backward into your head and wishing for a swift death). We both agreed that we’d rather keep our kids away from them for as long as possible.

A few years ago, we made the unconventional decision to get our teenagers flip phones, which most people think went extinct shortly after the dinosaurs but are, in fact, still very much around. We purchased ours for cheap off Amazon; they’re even lamer than the cellphone I used in college 20 years ago, if that’s possible.

Using their embarrassing flip phones, Lucy and George could make phone calls and send texts with an excruciating multitap number pad, but that was about it. Social media wasn’t a possibility. Scrolling the internet was an absolute nightmare.

I would watch them struggle to text a friend, only to have the whole thing be mysteriously erased by the subpar technology that powered their flip phones – and I relished it. It was exactly as I’d hoped. I didn’t want to make it easy for them to text their friends all day.

I didn’t want them to be able to default to mindlessly scrolling through their phones instead of connecting with people and places right in front of them. If my daughter missed a turn on her way to an event and got lost, I was OK with her pulling into a gas station to consult a map, call someone to figure it out or – heaven forbid – ask someone for directions.

Struggle is OK. Old school has its merits. It’s like what Gonzaga University communications professor Lisa Silvestri said in a recent article in this newspaper discussing how overly accessible technology is hurting rather than helping our teens: “We just have to will ourselves to be inconvenienced and to insert a little friction” into our lives.

So why now? Why open this can of worms onto our teenagers’ perfectly adequate caveman-like existence? Mostly it’s because we know this kind of technology is going to be a part of their lives, and we want them to learn how to properly use it while they’re still under our roof and we can guide them/exert authoritarian control over their every move.

A few days after handing the kids their smartphones (which we basically got for free when we were forced to switch cellular providers because I was dropping just about every single call I made), we had a little sit-down chat with them about our expectations and the limits we were going to put on their phone usage.

The parental controls on these things are the stuff that dreams are made of. Be still my beating control-freak heart! Not only can I now track my kids’ location, but I also can shut off access to their phones at a set time each night and limit how long my daughter scrolls through Pinterest or my son watches skateboarding videos.

There’s no limit to my power! Says I and half of Pandora’s demons who are still circling our house. By the time we were done with our chat, Lucy and George were probably longing for the good old days of their flip phones when their parents weren’t all up in their business.

Sorry, kids. With great technology comes great parental controls. Welcome to the 21st century.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at dittojulia@gmail.com.

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