Jun 9, 2023

Why I Give My Tween Permission to Be Mad at Me

Why I Give My Tween Permission to Be Mad at Me

The best time to talk to teens and tweens is while driving in the car. You don’t have to make direct eye contact, your conversation only lasts as long as the ride, and they can’t really duck out easily. (Unless they pop in their headphones and tune you out, which just gives us another good reason to limit or restrict phone use in the car.)

Some of my favorite parenting moments have happened on the way to dance class or school dropoff. I’ve shared stories about my own childhood, or learned about the latest friend drama, or discussed recent news headlines. Sometimes we listen to music, taking turns picking songs to listen to. Sometimes, of course, we talk about screentime. 

With my own tween, we’ve had quite a few car conversations about getting a phone. Mostly, I listen. Sometimes, I get frustrated. Usually, I am direct and honest: Nope. Not for a while.

I used to say my kids could get phones when they were 25 years old, because I knew we’d never last that long (they’d be well into adulthood by then) and therefore they would think we were “nice” for giving it to them at a younger age. Ha. 

But that was a few years ago, before 31% of 8-year-olds got their first phones, and before 95% of teens said they use YouTube regularly and before 41% of teen girls said they spend “too much time” on social media

It was also before 60% of teen girls said they feel persistent “hopelessness and sadness” and before 1 in 10 admitted to attempting suicide in the past year

Suddenly, it’s not so funny anymore. It’s urgent.

I firmly believe we are fighting for our kids’ future cognitive, mental, and emotional health by delaying access to smartphones and social media. I’m no fool– I know it’s not about absolution (that never works) and that my kids will see stuff on friend’s devices or computers, but that’s why my family talks about it. Constantly. (You see, Mom is The Screentime Consultant, after all.)

It’s also why I am okay with my kids being mad at me for delaying their smartphone or social media access, or setting limits on the amount of time they play video games or watch shows. They get some screentime, it’s true. But not a ton. And the general rule for any kind is: Ask first. Build in that habit. Acknowledge that you’re shifting to a screen-based activity from an analog one. It doesn’t happen every time, and we have to remind each other. But it’s a big part of our parenting approach around screentime. (And by the way, parents need to state this shift out loud too. We’re part of the problem and part of the solution.)

I know that it is hard to be a tween without a smart device (watch or phone) and social media accounts of your own. It does feel like “that’s how kids communicate” these days. But…my daughter has friends over all the time, and makes plans, and lets me know where she is…without a phone of her own. So…I can see that it is possible to live a full life without it. (I have a great parenting hack for how to handle these tween years without a personal phone– it’ll be in next week’s essay, so stay tuned.)

Another important part of this is being okay with being That Parent. The “strict” one or the “worst” one, depending on the day and which child of mine you ask. I know my kids love me, but they don’t always like me. And that’s okay. In fact, I would argue, that’s healthy. 

I recently gave my 12-year-old daughter permission to be mad at us for not giving her a phone or social media.

I’ve noticed over the past few months, as Sylvie has learned more about my work (by accompanying me on my trip to NYC and hearing me speak), her former requests (demands?) for getting her own phone have receded. Occasionally she will fuss about it, but for the most part, the intensity has settled. Our years of tech-intentional parenting have started to pay off (this is why I do not offer “quick fixes”-- they never last.)

Why are things different this time?

I have a few theories. 

One, Sylvie has me as her mom. And as I’ve said before, if your mom is The Screentime Consultant, you talk a lot about screentime. If I were a dentist, we’d eat less sugar. That’s the way the (sugar-filled) cookie crumbles, I guess! 

Two, Sylvie is maturing. She just turned 12, which marks a pretty big shift developmentally. I can see the wheels in her brain spinning a little less haphazardly, her actions more closely matching her values, and her confidence in herself growing. 

Sylvie is nearly a full year older than some of her classmates. This has allowed her to step more confidently into a leadership role among her peers, even as the “new” kid at a K-5 school. One new friend wrote in a card to her during the holidays, “I can’t believe you only joined our class a few months ago. It feels like we’ve known you forever.” Sometimes she says she plays “therapist” on the playground for her peers having drama with friends. And when she ran for student council– and lost– she was disappointed but didn’t let it derail her. 

This maturity, along with her awareness of our concerns about giving kids smart devices and social media, has allowed her to be more okay with being That Kid whose mom won’t let her do what everyone else is doing. I don’t think she loves it, but she’s putting up less of a fight.

Parents of tweens and teens can feel a lot like they are being shown the middle finger while simultaneously being asked for a hug. It’s confusing (for parents AND kids) - but it’s developmentally normal for tweens to eye roll and test limits and tell us we are the worst parents (Welcome to the club). The hard part (for parents) is not to personalize those rude gestures and comments, but our job as parents is to not take the bait. To focus on the “hug me” gesture instead.

And sometimes, as parents, we can offer space for our kids to have those “middle-finger feelings” ahead of time, such as by inviting them to be angry at us or blame us for not having a phone. 

Thus, the conversation in the car the other day. I’ve said it to Sylvie before, but every few months I offer it again: “Hey- just a reminder, it’s okay for you to be mad at me and Dad for not giving you a phone when your friends might be getting one.”

“I know,” she sighed.

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Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.