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I’m building a tech house, but will it be a home?

deviceKids

“My son is on his device every minute of the day, every minute, we don’t really ‘talk’ …”

At a private function in September, I found myself chatting to a great guy about random topics including what we do for a living, our interests and so on. He was telling me that he is in the importing industry and is currently building a big house in a beautiful leafy suburb. It turns out this guy is a successful businessman who seems to be living the dream.

Nick is in his 50’s with a 15-year-old son Cam. He had split up with his son’s mother in recent years and they have a 50/50 split custody of their boy – one week on, one week off. His son attends a very good school and wants to be a professional sportsperson. He isn’t doing so well in school but okay – he could probably be doing better according to Nick.

When I told him of my involvement with young people and deviceKids project, he immediately went into more detail about his life.

The story begins here … Cam is completely reliant on his device.

Nick tries really hard to encourage him with his sport, constantly suggesting he go to the grounds to practice because he genuinely believes in his son’s ambition. Cam’s mate has the same ambition and practices up to 26 hours in the week. Cam is lucky to fit in an hour a week. Why? Because he is fixated on playing games on his device – “I just can’t get him off” says Nick.

Nick seemed aware of the limitations of his son’s reliance on the device. For instance, he understands that Cam needs to be more equipped socially because he cannot have a conversation. “I even take him on business dinners to get him out with people”.

Cam won’t do any chores … he doesn’t do anything.

Cam stays up until past midnight on school nights, gives his dad the bird if Nick tries to correct him or remove his device – in fact Nick has given up on removing it.

Nick has taken Cam on multiple overseas trips specifically to meet his extended family and have new experiences.

That’s common in new builds these days.

You can see that this man cares deeply for his son. He tries hard to engage Cam but he doesn’t seem to get anywhere.

Now for Nick, he is also on his phone constantly – but it is for work. Cam on the other hand is either gaming or using other social media apps – either way it’s unproductive.

So parents this is the moment.

This is the moment of confusion in which so many of you find yourselves. What should Nick do? If he removes the device Cam throws a tantrum and Nick feels forced to back down. He really doesn’t want to see his son upset – “he’s a good kid – he just finds it hard to connect”.

He tries hard to teach his son. But how do you compete with the phone? For instance at these work dinners, instead of being social, Cam is constantly taking selfies and posting them to Snapchat – throughout the entire meal! He has the phone on his lap and continuously takes photos of himself – I just thought he was shy and had his head down! Nick just doesn’t relate.

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Social Media fulfils a need in kids that parents feel they can’t compete with.

Okay … so what do we know? Well, the first thing is that the device spends more time with Cam, than his own father does.

Secondly, we know that kids learn 24 hours a day 7 days a week – even when you are not actively teaching them – you ARE teaching them … because they never stop learning!

The question is what is Nick teaching Cam and what are the consequences of this?

1. Cam wants to be a professional sportsperson, which is awesome, but unfortunately he will never reach his goal. The sport he wants to pursue already has champions his age. Cam doesn’t understand the concept of effort, diligence, commitment, mastery or goal setting because he isn’t being taught.

Instead he is learning to be lazy, unmotivated and apathetic.

In those moments, something on that device is more fulfilling than going to the sports grounds to practice his ambition and realise his dreams.

2. Cam is 15 years old and should be capable of getting a part-time job that requires interaction with others. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to socialise civilly. He isn’t being taught to break through his shyness and assert himself to engage with real people in the moment. He continues his ‘solitude’ activity on his device despite being in the company of others.

Instead Cam is learning how to be rude, discourteous and anti-social.

In those moments, Cam is more comfortable on the device (which is fulfilling something inside of him) than engaging with and enjoying the company of some interesting people.

3. Now, Cam isn’t performing well at school, not because he doesn’t have a brain but more likely because he is hyper-stimulated until the early hours of the morning … every night. He is exhausted. He is not given a reinforced boundary that will teach him to be responsible and self-regulate. He doesn’t understand that rest and 8 hours sleep is what he needs to be alert, concentrate at school and increase his potential.

Instead he is learning to be undisciplined, advantageous and careless.

Something on that device is fulfilling Cam in that moment more than the importance of having a good night of sleep, performing at school and gaining an education.

So what is the lesson for Nick?

Nick ought to consider the lessons Cam is learning and consider how these resonate and influence his son’s sense of self. Deep down, do you think Cam would like to be known as lazy, apathetic, rude or undisciplined? Do you think he would feel good about himself knowing that he probably won’t fulfil his sporting dream? Do you think Cam feels good when his teachers are on his back about incomplete work and drifting off in class?

No. Of course not! The lesson for Nick is to understand that every time he allows the device to come between him and his son, he is teaching his son something … and he is sending his son strong messages … every time. As a result, in the real world, Cam is constantly reminded of what he can’t do so he turns to social media where he feels good about himself.

I wondered about this house Nick was building with the separate zones and thought about my own childhood, with one lounge room where the whole family was strewn together on the vinyl sofa to enjoy the same program on one screen and the laughs we had – and I asked Nick: “does the device spend more quality time with your son than you do?” Nick exhaled a large sigh as he threw his head back and answered, “it absolutely does…”.

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