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Screenage Wasteland

I recently saw the film "Men, Women and Children," which, if you've seen it, you know IS A TOTAL HEADFUCK. If you haven't seen it, this is basically what happens:

EVERYONE IS ON THE INTERNET KILLING THEIR LIVES. WE'RE ALL DOOMED.

I mean, the Internet is a beautiful place but also, I wouldn't really want to raise teenagers right now. (Seriously. How many times does someone of an older generation tell you that? "Good luck, ye parents of today! Sucks to be you!")

And yet, I get it. It is a very different world today than it was yesterday (and will be tomorrow) and we don't really have any idea how to navigate this new landscape because we all had pagers when we were teenagers, not pocket porn-downloader sext machines. And I am just going to assume that is what all teenagers are doing. I have reverse head-in-the-sand syndrome. I assume that everyone is worst-case-scenario-ing at all times. Not because I don't think teenagers are amazing. It's just that I REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE ONE and I refuse to be all "la la la" when it comes to the reality of tech and its effects on our fast-growing children.

After all, kids are kids. Teens are teens. They're curious. They're also, much like their adult counterparts, overly empowered by anonymity and addicted to their devices.

I was recently at one of my mom's plays in San Diego and almost every kid in the audience was texting on their phones. The entire time. During a play. While seated with their parents. I mean, how is that OK? In what world is that cool? Why aren't the parents saying, "THIS IS NOT OK!" Or are THEY also on their phones, so they feel like they can't talk?

Maybe that's the problem. How can we, as tech-addicted parents, enforce our children's screen time? Can we? Would we rather let our kids lose themselves in their phones so that we don't have to face the fact that we are also lost in ours?

***

When we were kids, we passed notes in class. We folded them into neat little origami squares and, when the teacher wasn't looking, we threw them across the room. Or dropped them on the floor. Or put them in the hoodie of the guy in front of us.

It always felt like a risk, passing notes. We kept our secrets scribbled in those little triangles in rainbow ink. And occasionally we'd include pictures. Drawings. REALLY juicy stuff. And sometimes the note would end up in the wrong hands and DRAMA OMG MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM FIRST THING NEXT PERIOD WE HAVE TO TALK. Friends would lose friends and boys would know who wanted to make out with whom and rumors would spread and we would all write in our (private) diaries about how shitty everything has become.

Kids don't pass notes anymore. (That's what I've been told, anyway. I still don't believe it because HOW CAN YOU NOT PASS NOTES? That was where I honed my skills as a writer!) This isn't 1995, which is unfortunate because 1995 was an excellent year and I feel like we—who had pagers and begged our parents for our own landlines in high school—had it MADE. We were bullied, sure, but it was always in the open. And yes, sometimes a crank call (or is it PRANK call?) was unable to be star-69'd but we always knew who it was.

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And porn, to our teenage minds, was Playboy, which we found under our parents' beds and hid behind community pools with our cigarettes.

Now, it's all public. It's all shared. And while I completely relate to why that is important (obviously), I also didn't have access to oversharing until I was old enough to kind of know my limits.

My kids still don't have devices. They have access to the home computer, and occasionally Hal's iPad, but for the most part, our kids live a pretty '90s existence. They play board games and watch "Clueless." But my son will be in middle school next year and that is when we promised him a phone. And we will keep that promise, even though, UGHJASDJADJADJKASGDJK.

***

I was recently asked to do a sponsored campaign with an app that monitors children's devices. If your kid sends a text message, YOU, the parent, ALSO get the text message. You also are privy to what happens on your kid's social media platforms, their emails, Snapchat(s), etc. When I asked why the fuck I would spy on my kid, I was told that it was to "protect children from being cyber-bullied." Which, OK, but, really? Can someone please explain how spying on our kids protects them from being bullied? I mean, unless a child WANTS to be spied on, it sounds a whole lot like helicopter eavesdrop mania to me. And yet, the alternative is equally as maniacal. We buy our kids cell phones and shrug, like, "I guess this is it. Good luck to you on your new tech-addicted journey!"

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All of this is to say, go watch "Men, Women and Children" and then come back here and let's discuss. Let's discuss how we navigate tech and our children. Let's discuss how we can better moderate without spying, how we can educate our children and ourselves, regarding responsible tech usage and how we can convince our kids that passing notes in class is SO MUCH cooler than sexting.

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