A boy uses a smartphone

Tech & Media

I’m a Tech-Obsessed Hypocrite — But I Want To Model Better Habits For My Son

Feb 6, 2019

Like most kids his age, my son is addicted to screens. His games and apps are important to him in the same way Atari was to me, back in the day. And like most parents, I do this awkward dance of pushing him toward them, then pulling him back. You see, I’m a total hypocrite when it comes to tech.

I’m not so short-sighted that I can’t see the value in learning to code. I know tech is the future. But it’s also the trap. Social media scares me more than any zombie or clown peeking out of a manhole cover. Social media makes me want to bundle my guileless boy in layers of bubble wrap and unwrap him in another era.

Ever since he was diagnosed with autism at age 3, I have been very open about my experience. The reason I write is not because I have things figured out (who does!?) but because the act of writing helps me figure things out. And right now, I’m struggling.

Relevant Reading: I Let My Cell Phone Distract Me From My Family, But I’m Done With That Now

While searching for something on my husband’s phone recently, I came across a video of my son and I playing together, taken around 5 years ago. We were having a pretend picnic on the coffee table. My son's voice was small and squeaky and when he giggled, my heart clenched in my chest.

How was he ever that little? And where had that voice gone? How had I not noticed?

I had no idea my husband was filming us, but I was glad that he had. That archival footage was precious.

"Meanwhile, as I hear myself lecturing, doling out empty threats and setting timer,  I glance down at my own smartphone."

Since my son turned 10, the tectonic plates have shifted. My little squeaky-voiced boy has morphed into this lanky preteen with lots of moods. Mom is no longer the centre of his universe. Giggles are harder to come by, as are spontaneous cuddles. The logical part of my brain concedes that this evolution is perfectly natural; it means he's growing up. Still, the sappy part of my mom brain is in mourning.

His world is changing. And since I can’t fight it, I’d better learn to roll with it.

Just as my parents feared the television would suck my grey matter and leave my skull a hollow shell, I worry what all that screen time will do to my son.

Meanwhile, as I hear myself lecturing, doling out empty threats and setting timer,  I glance down at my own smartphone.

"Mom," he beckons.

"Be right there," I reply, but not before I skim the text that has just comine in. And just reply real quick. 

"Mom," he calls.

But then there’s a ping from my Inbox. I have to check. I tell myself it's different because it's work. Or it could be something related to the house or the car or the school.

"I'm in the room with him but I'm not with him."

But it's not different, not really. I hear his voice, no longer squeaky yet still insistent, receding in the distance. I'm in the room with him but I'm not with him. I'm staring into space, glassy-eyed, my thoughts flying every which way. It won't be long before he stops asking. Before he doesn't bother telling me about that thing he desperately wanted to tell me or show me. In time he'll find someone else — someone other than me — who's willing to listen and pay attention to him. Or worse, he'll tell no one at all.

Relevant Reading: How to Set Screen Time Rules That Work 

If he doesn't look up from his screen when I say his name, can I really blame him?

If this tech has consumed him, then it has consumed us both. And it has to stop — this greedy reflex of check, check and check again. Every hour, every half hour, each time I walk past the charger. I don't need to get more done; I need to get more present. I need to practice the art of being with him, clear-headed and empty-handed. I need to turn up that song so we can dance around the kitchen. I need to tell him something funny that happened that day or some random fact I read that made me think of him. But mostly I need to listen without probing or giving him the third degree. I need to listen without simultaneously running through a mental list of all the stuff I need to get done that day.

Above all, I need to be the mom in the video, before we both forget what she was like.

Article Author Julie Green
Julie Green

Read more from Julie here.

Julie M Green is a Toronto-based freelance writer and artist. A featured blogger at Huffington Post and former staff writer at YMC.ca, her work has appeared in several publications, including Today's Parent and the Globe and Mail, and she has given interviews for CTV, CBC and BBC Radio. Julie lives with her Irish hubby, crazy bulldog, and amazing 9-year-old son. Follow Spectrum Parenting for the latest autism-related resources. For more information, check out juliemgreen.ca.

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