She’s almost 13 and, like others of her generation, my youngest daughter was desperate for an iPhone. My wife and I each had one, Big Sister had one, and everyone in the history of civilization had one, too.
Now she wanted hers.
My wife and I held out as long as possible, trying to forestall the inevitable. We wanted our daughter to play in the park, climb a tree and be a kid for as long as possible. We did not want a torpid zombie draped over the furniture like a Salvador Dali clock, bathed in electronic glow, oblivious to the world around her.
Not surprisingly, Lil’ Sister had a different perspective. She wanted a phone, and she was willing to chew through steel doors to get one.
Faced with insurmountable odds, my wife and I eventually surrendered. On Saturday, mother and daughter delivered themselves unto the Devil, more precisely, a local phone store.
If you think buying a house is a hassle, or airline pricing is arcane, just try adding an additional phone to your telecom plan. There are IOS updates to consider, family storage plans to manage and pork belly futures to track. It’s like the Mad Hatter’s tea party, in which everything is very important, very confusing.
My wife, who is a shrewd observer of the human condition, said the process was unnecessarily complicated. In our case, the Upside Down fee was offset by the Inside Out agreement which, this month only, allowed us to upgrade to Smooth Operator status, where we could pay additional monthly fees to preserve the option of future upgrades.
Such a deal for you!
After a while, my wife’s eyes simply glazed over and she signed where she was told to sign. It was like the Treaty of Versailles, which brought World War I to an end. My wife’s imprimatur brought an immediate ceasefire from the barrage of tech jargon and the bombardment of payment options.
Soundly defeated – or victorious, depending on one’s point of view -- mother and daughter retreated to the Home Front, where partisan skirmishing broke out immediately.
The issue was Screen Time Limits, which sounds pretty innocuous, but is actually a minefield for parents. Rile up your kid with — here we go, censorship! — and you can lose an arm or a leg in the blink of an eye.
All joking aside, there are deep forces at work when it comes to a youngster’s heavy reliance on portable electronic devices. The problem is still in its infancy, so it is poorly understood, but it is a real issue with long-lasting implications.
And calling the portable electronic device a “phone” doesn’t do anybody any favors. It is much, much more than a phone.
In truth, it is a portal to the internet, where some dark things lurk, hoping to ensnare naive young visitors.
As parents, my wife and I would be remiss if we didn’t seek to shield our child from the worst the web has to offer. At the same time, our daughter wants to roam all the hills and valleys of the internet landscape. Closer to home, she wants to text her friends, share jokes and make plans to get together.
Both sides have legitimate interests. Compromise isn’t easy. The Old Way of Doing Things doesn’t mesh easily with the New Way.
This is not a giggly dispute over a harmless new plaything. It is an intensely waged struggle over a powerful, poorly understood new force in our family’s solar system. It has its own gravitational pull, and it can suck kids in for days at a time.
We’re trying to be modern, accommodating parents, while maintaining some control over our child’s exposure to the wider world. It’s a tough balancing act under the best of circumstances, and it’s a whole lot more challenging now that Uncle iPhone is in the house.
Pullman resident William Brock is a finalist for the Worst Parent in History award.