Mar 9, 2023

Our Kids Are Listening, Even When They Roll Their Eyes.

Our Kids Are Listening, Even When They Roll Their Eyes.

We have to keep talking.

We have to keep talking.

Emily speaking to children who are distracted and inclined to ignore her
Emily speaking to children who are distracted and inclined to ignore her
Emily speaking to children who are distracted and inclined to ignore her

For better or worse, my kids have me, The Screentime Consultant, as their mother. Recently, my 11-year-old daughter was really upset with me for a variety of reasons (including: sleepover aftermath. Ugh. IYKYK).

Part of what tumbled out in her frustration was the claim that “none of my friends have a mom like you” and that when she tries to explain to her friends our reasons for not giving her a personal smart device, she said, They don’t understand.”

She’s right. They don’t. I empathized with her. Acknowledged her feelings. Told her it was okay for her to not like our rules. That different families focus on different things and it made sense that her friends might not understand the way we talk about screentime in our house.

And then I told her: “But you are going to have to trust me on this one. Every single day I hear from parents who tell me, ‘I wish I had known this sooner, I wish I had waited on smart devices, I wish I knew then what I know now.’ Right now, this doesn’t feel easy or comfortable. You will be That Kid whose parents might have an approach that is different from what your friend’s families do. That’s okay. That’s normal. In our view, we are fighting to protect your mental and emotional health. And that’s a fight worth having.”

She nodded. And asked, “Can you tell my friends’ parents then? Can you do a talk at my school?”

“Sure,” I said. “I can offer that.” And then I told her, “But I have to be careful with how I approach this with other parents. If you think your friends don’t understand all of this, how might their parents feel when I bring this up?

Immediately she answered: “Judged.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s right. And when we feel judged, we get defensive. I know parents want to do right by their kids. But saying no when so many other parents seem to be saying yes can make parenting really, really hard.

(Both of my children ignoring me. While smiling.)

Parents: I am not judging you. I get it. I know how hard this is. Even in my heated conversation with my daughter, there were moments when I thought, “It would be so much easier to just say ‘Yes’ to a phone…”

But I also had to take my own advice.

This isn’t the first time in parenting history that a tween hasn’t liked what their parents had to say or rebelled against the rule their parents set. In fact, I remember that feeling myself.

What has changed isn’t the tween-parent dynamic. What has changed is the introduction of smart technology and social media, which are by design compelling and addictive. This is a whole new ball game (and yes, it is why parenting is harder today than it was in any previous generation.)

We have to remember: just because our kids are rolling their eyes at us and telling us that we’ve ruined their social life, please know this: We said this to our parents too. We survived. We lived to tell the tales. And even more importantly: when our kids roll their eyes, it means they are listening.

My daughter has been using my phone number to text her friends. For now this is working, even if I have to mute group chat threads that can scale to hundreds of texts in just minutes. (If you didn’t get a chance to read it, here’s my essay on what it was like spending 5 days in a 5th grade chat thread.)

I’ll admit– sometimes the eye rolls make me feel like what I say just goes in one ear and out the other.

But if I weren’t sharing a phone with my daughter, I would have missed a really important moment that showed me she is listening…

(I have her attention now! Her eyes aren’t rolling! Quick!)

Here is a (condensed) summary of a recent text thread I witnessed (through my phone) of a conversation my daughter (S) had with a friend (K)(shared with permission):

Kid: Wait, do you have TikTok. Bc I dont.

S: No wat.

K: And I want it so bad

S: I do not its reaaaaallllyyy bad 4 u

K: WAT NO ITS NOT

S: Uh yes it is

K: MY BROTHER HAS IT AND HES PERFECTLY HEALTHY

S: U can get depression and anxiety

K: Not as much as school

S: Uuuuhhh no it especially bad for young teen girls. Soo don’t get tiktok

K: Wat no it’s not. School makes you so depressed. LOOK AT ME. I’M DEPRESSED AS EVER.

S: [sends emojis of phone plus NO sign]

K: u trippin

S: it means no tiktok

K: BUT MUSIC RULES OVER EVERYTHING

S: Don’t get it!!

K: NOTHING BEATS MUSIC. BUT YOU TUBE IS JUST AS BAD.

S: As what? Oh.

K: Tik Tok

S: LOL. ok well by then.

K: Ok bye

S: Also the Chinese government can spy on you! Don’t text back! Bye!

This was such an ah-ha moment for me as a parent.

If I had not been sharing my phone with her, all I would have heard is her frustration that I won’t let her have her own phone, the criticism that I am the “only” parent who won’t allow it, that I am “sooooo mean.”

But in reality, while those are the words she is saying out loud, the messages she is internalizing, the warnings she is hearing, the lessons she is learning…are louder. Stronger. Sticking.

Parents, do not confuse your child’s opposition as negation. Your words matter. They are hearing you. And yes, we have to say it many times, and yes, we have to receive many eye rolls, but if we give up, then what?

Now they’re both listening! Or focusing on the dog. One of the two.

If we do nothing, nothing changes. Nothing gets taught. Nothing gets learned.

So keep trying. Keep teaching. Keep talking to them.

It matters. We matter.

It’s a fight worth having.

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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.