These days, I feel regret. I dwell in regret just long enough to tsk tsk myself and vow to do better. I tell myself to learn from mistakes; don’t file them away, only to be repeated tomorrow.
I do much better now than I did then, but there are some mistakes that can’t be improved upon. Sometimes, you get a moment to do the right thing, and if you don’t take it, it is lost forever.
It’s here that I reflect on my children, and my decisions on how to parent them. I am not a perfect parent; there is certainly a lot of square footage for me to improve upon. My children are imperfect individuals, and they reflect me perfectly. We are all just a bit inconsistent, unloving, and critical, and every parenting manual and parenting professional out there preaches the direct opposite.
The problem with parenting and regret is that children grow so fast that you often don’t get another chance to do it over. You find yourself trying to improve upon a mistake that you wish you hadn’t made. The way back to the road is so difficult that you wish you’d have just followed the directions in the first place and not okayed the shortcuts that put you off the path so obviously.
It’s no secret that I am a reluctant electronics user. It is ever so apparent that I am in the minority. I have been swept along in the personal electronics craze with everyone else, and have thus far been standing on the edge of this current screaming digital age with alternating disdain and indifference. I possess no state-of-the-art electronic devices. I conceded to receiving a Kindle as a gift, thinking it would drive me to read more. I haven’t touched it in weeks.
When my kids were old enough not to break everything they touched, they were given personal electronics devices despite my gut feelings that they were not old enough to take adequate responsibility for them. Over the next few years, they have been given other devices that are a source of grief and stress in our household. Despite usage limits, we remind our children daily to end their screen sessions, to which we are more often than not countered with fits of anger, tears, and stalling techniques. “One more minute” turns into five, then ten, then twenty. It is the most common form of Disrespect in my house.
The devices that were so shiny in the box have turned into grimy objects that litter our home. Sometimes they have not worked correctly for days, and only when I take the time to help my children delete apps they no longer use, update the ones they do, and clean them up will they snatch them away from me only to be clogged with more unusable apps and worthless pictures. They are not old enough to be responsible for a pocket-sized device that each cost upwards of at least two hundred dollars. Two hundred dollars is still a lot of money in our house.
Charge your iPad. Plug in the computer. Turn off your mouse. These sayings have become a mantra that I have adopted as a way to instill responsibility in my children about their belongings. I should be telling them to go outside, read a book, play a game together. They should not be worried about where their chargers are.
My son tells me that most of his school friends have cellphones. My son is still a child: he is 11 years old. I do not understand why he would have to call or text anyone, including me, from school during the day. He is supervised by adults at school, adults whom he can talk to if he needs to contact me. They need to know if there is a problem at school. If he is contacting me from his pocket in the hallways at school, no one knows but him and me that there is a problem. The adults at school should know that there is a problem, and in my opinion they should know about it first.
My son also tells me that some kids look at the types of websites on their phones that I don’t even look at on my computer. We can’t look at those websites on our electronic devices because we have set parental controls not to. My husband would be fired from his job if he looked at them on his work computer.
I am not naive. I know that when given the chance, like I had when I was little and got an eyeful of a discarded Playboy magazine, my son will experience these things. I know he has curiosity about these things. I am not into sheltering my children from the world; they live in it.
But they are not old enough for all of the things that electronic devices bring, starting with the real care that a teeny computer requires. We know this from experience. I have also seen enough child-owned cellphones with cracked screens to know that my children are not the only ones who are too young to know how to be responsible for them. I know they are not old enough to view porn and the kinds of inappropriate things that make me squirm when I think of my children being exposed to them. They are not 18 years old; they are 9 and 11.
I do not have the answers about how to parent in this age of electronics. All I know is what my gut tells me, and I wish that we had held off on giving them their own devices to manage until they were older. That time will never be returned to me, or to them. I regret that, but never so much as when we are battling over daily screen time, or taking the time to nurse a tearful child’s iPod back to health. Our children are children; they are innocent. I regret this loss in them that I believe is occurring earlier than it had to, but most of all, I regret that I didn’t put my foot down when I had the chance.