Monday, November 18, 2013

Discipline in a Digital Age

I read a Facebook post last week from one of my fellow writers and immediately responded by asking if she'd like to write a guest post on this subject. To my delight, she agreed and I am thrilled to be offering Mary Sutton's wisdom on an issue pertinent to today's parents. 

Photo by Ian L  Note: this is not Mary's daughter

Discipline in a Digital Age 

by Mary Sutton

“I’d never want to raise kids in this day and age. It’s way too hard.”

I hear this from a lot of people, especially those of my dad’s generation. You know—grandparents. Somehow, they look at kids in 2013 and think it was so much easier raising them in the 50s, or 60s, or 70s. However, the previous generation has been bemoaning the current generation since the days of this guy named Socrates. So really, the basics are not new.

There is no doubt, however, that the game has changed. Not that it hasn’t changed before (when radio gave way to television, when movies in theaters gave way to DVDs). As always, the change brings new challenges.

“Mom, it’s the 21st century. You can’t take away our electronics!”

This was the plaint from my 13-year old daughter last week. See, their TV/computer/phone privileges have been severely curtailed.

We’ve tried to stem the digital tide. My son, 11, does not have a smart phone. Just this fall, we got my daughter a smartphone (a 99-cent iPhone 4). She “pays” for it by cooking dinner five nights a week. My son did save up and bought himself an iPod Touch. And, of course, there is the computer.

I’m also gratified that any number of adults -- from our pastor, to the little old church ladies, to teachers -- tell me, “Your kids are such wonderful young people.” So I guess the good part is they’ve saved this behavior for me. Still, I want them to keep being “wonderful young people.” And that starts at home.

My kids are hardly digital addicts. They do scouts, taekwondo, swimming in the summer, and are outside a good bit. But things have gotten just a little out of hand. When the behavior started mimicking what I see on “Jessie,” “Crash and Bernstein,” and “Pretty Little Liars,” well, it was time to take steps.

My girl does, however, have a point. We are all so connected these days. Look around the next time you’re in a mall. Almost every adult (and a good portion of the kids) has a smart phone. We tweet, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, almost all of our lives. Actual telephone calls have decreased so much, that phone companies are giving minutes away for free. In our increasingly mobile society, we may live miles away from friends and family, in another county, state or time zone. There is no doubt the Internet has allowed many of us to meet people we would not have otherwise connected with. And this is not a bad thing.
The bad thing is when it starts interfering with daily life, with how we treat the people we do come in personal contact with, especially our friends and family. So, as a parent, we ask ourselves: Can we really detach our children from digital space?

Yes, yes we can.

We are the parents, after all. It starts with us. What does your own digital life look like? Are you able to put down the phone and pay attention to a movie? Do you take phone calls or texts during dinner? Do you even eat dinner with your family? If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” well, that’s the first step. It might be time to reform your own digital habits.

Once you have, it’s time to unplug your children. It’s easier than you think. We have a few new rules these days:
  • Phones, when not in use, are stored on the shelf in the back hallway. They can make calls and answer texts. Otherwise, the phone is on the shelf. No YouTube, no endless hours of checking Instagram, no games. 
  • The computer is to be used for educational purposes only. Research, papers, projects. No games. 
  •  No television watching after school. A parental lock code has been implemented to keep it that way. Any other television viewing must be parent-approved (for example, watching a football game on Sunday afternoon).

Essentially, they can do four things: read, homework, chores, or play outside (okay, it’s November in western Pennsylvania, so not sure about that one).

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But after the initial outburst, I found the kids quietly playing a board game in the living room. Later that night, all of us were cozied up reading. And the change in attitude was almost instantaneous.

The new regime will continue until Christmas vacation. Then we will re-evaluate. Based on early results, however, the outcome is very promising.

 * * *

Mary Sutton has been making her living with words for almost fifteen years. She is the author of the Hero’s Sword middle-grade fantasy series from Delabarre Publishing.

Visit her on the web at

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