When my daughter got her first phone she also got a long list of rules
Give Up Your Aul Screens: It’s too late for me but there’s hope for my children
Conor Pope: I’m determined my enslavement will not be inherited by my children
Give Up Yer Aul Screens is a summer series where Irish Times writers share their experiences of the challenge of reducing screentime. You can get involved here
My daughter is rarely happier than when she has a phone held to her ear or is wildly stabbing at its screen.
I say “phone” but in truth we’re talking phones. It’s not uncommon to see her with a device in each hand and another on the table in front of her like she’s a Silicon Valley venture capitalist on the verge of sealing a multi-billion dollar deal to fund the new Facebook.
Sometimes, when the technology is taken from her she has a complete meltdown – we’re talking breath-stopping sobs and rage-filled stomping. On occasion, if she’s particularly upset by the unfairness of it all, she lies on the floor and flails until I relent.
And I do relent because her determination to get back the objects of her desire is so fierce that there are virtually no heights she is unwilling to scale or at least try to scale for them and I know she will risk real physical injury for her phones.
My daughter is 18-months old.
Everything is hers
They are not her phones. They are my phones and her mother’s and her sister’s. But in her world everything is hers.
I wish I could express bewilderment at why she is so attached to the devices and seeks them out while ignoring mountains of more age appropriate toys discarded at her feet.
But I know what’s going on. She may not understand precisely what a smart phone does or exactly how to use it, but she sees the devices which talk and trill and forever glow in the hands of her parents and regards them as beacons of independence and grown-upness.
They are anything but. Phones have, in fact, enslaved and infantilised me.
I could – and do – blame work for my over-reliance on screens. But I know that’s a lie. For sure being a journalist requires some out of hours interaction with the office and with colleagues and with sources. But it’s not like I’m so important that I need to be always on.
Quite the opposite in fact – the world will keep turning and no-one will die if an hour passes without me checking my email or any one of the multiplying social media accounts I’ve sold my soul to or – ahem – my fantasy football team.
I could – and do – blame the devices themselves for being so damn smart. But I know that’s a lie too. From the moment I got my hands on my very first mobile in the spring of 1997, I was hooked.
Almost instantly I was in thrall to their seductive charms even when they could do nothing more than make calls and send text messages USUALLY IN CAPS and play Snake.
I’m determined my enslavement will not be inherited by my children. While my youngest may be, like me, a lost cause, I’ve more hope for my oldest. She got her first real phone this summer ahead of the start of secondary school.
Before she got the device she got a list of rules longer and more cold-hearted than anything Leviticus could have dreamed and – make no mistake – Leviticus was one mean prophet.
Phone usage is restricted to the hours between 8am to 8pm and forbidden at the dinner table or when eating any class of meal, whether with family members or alone. Social media usage is limited to the essentials – and watching insta-stories of people you don’t know doing things you don’t care about is not considered essential (at least when it comes to her). Games are frowned upon. The phone is never allowed into bedrooms or in bathrooms.
So far the rules are working and the phone remains almost incidental to her life. We went on holidays in early in July and it stayed turned off for the duration. Now, if only the adults could say the same thing.