How to deal with teenager internet overload…

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

I’m a single dad… My kids are young and I have them for a third of the time. Next year will be a 50/50 split. I spend my “on” times with my kids, essentially doing what two parents normally would. In the morning I wear the Mom hat, make sure the kids are prepped for school and their lunches made. I try to ad my bit of dad’ness to their meals, and revel in their occasional approval. If it’s a cookie that is snuck into their lunch boxes, I make sure that it’s a giant one. I guess it’s a dad thing.

Our drive to school is usually quite a festive affair. I’m up at 5 in the morning and by the time we hit the road to get to school, my brain has been awake for three hours. I guess it can get pretty annoying to have a wide awake “half centurion” getting you to sing old meatloaf ballads when you’re stuck behind the MyCiti bus, wondering if your homework is ok.

Usually, by the time we turn up towards the school road, just after Bootleggers, I have them humming “Paradise by the dashboard light” without even being aware of it. (We call it an ear-worm, ‘cos it’s with you for most of the day)

When we get to school and take our place in the line-up of “short people delivery vehicles”, there’s a scuffle as to who is going to lean over and kiss me good-bye first. My youngest, wants to kiss me good-bye first, because she gives the longest hugs and takes pleasure from seeing the exasperation on the faces of the 2 older one’s. Phoenix, my boy wants to dispense with girl-like courtesies and get his ass onto the playground before the bell goes, hoping to get a little ball time with his buddies. Ruby, my eldest, a newly crowned teenager is about as affectionate as, well, a teenager can be, when they’re being dropped at school by their embarrassing, slobbering with love, father.

If I’m lucky, she will make eye contact, but otherwise the dutiful hug says something more along the lines of “get me the F#$#k out of here before the hawt guy see me with my old man”

My eldest has been on my mind lately. She’s a stunning girl and a good person, but lately the clouds of impending adulthood have begun to draw a shadow over her youthful face. Our conversations, once marked by a mutual interchange of laughter and loving teasing, have been replaced by her monosyllabic answers to my questions. It’s as if she’s slipping away from me. I completely get it. She’s turning into a woman and inside, she is forming questions on-top of questions.

As if that weren’t hard enough, she is also part of a generation of device wielders, which I believe makes the transition to adulthood that much tougher.

Hear me out…

You see, like most of her peers, Ruby is the happy recipient of a smartphone. She wields it like she was born with it in her hands. In the time that it takes me to write a text message, she is able to have 3 conversations going at once, insert filtered images and change her profile picture on Instagram whilst checking to see if Vampire Diaries is airing on Netflix. Ruby, like most teens, is never more than a meter away from her phone. When left unattended, she will binge watch Netflix or dive deep into Instagram for whatever time is given to her on the phone. As parents, to a generation of tablet wielding little people, we aren’t always equipped to deal with the onslaught of the digital era.

We’ve been guilty of being semi grateful for the little flat portals into another world, giving us the occasional respite from our parenting duties. It’s a double edged sword though. Our teenagers are questing for information. They want to know what the adult world holds, and Google delivers all they want to know about — and then some… This quest also leads them along the path of much needed teenage self approval, gained in the “likes” garnered on Social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

In a world where the number of followers you have are directly proportionate to your social standing amongst your peers, and gossip spreads like wildfire across easily created Whastapp groups, our kids seem to have lost the naivety of learning through doing vs learning through swiping a screen.

An teenage “social dance” is cause for cyber relationships to flare up with boys. Text streams, the length of a football field quickly form after hours, as messages are forwarded and opinions are coined with the help of cucumber emojis and abbreviations… LOL?!.

Sometimes the would-be relationship is done and dusted before it even had the chance to become a sweaty holding of hands, as WhatsApp group friends cast their collective votes on how like likeable the poor fellow is.

I have walked into her room late at night, with the phone still, greeted by a vacant stare of someone who has been in deep conversation with some letters on a screen and I have felt sorry for her and her generation. This thing, the phone, the extension of us that gives us a humanoid character, has slowly but surely added mounds of worries to parents. I’m a dad and I mean only the best for my girl. It’s a big and scary world out there and we humans learn how to deal with the world by doing shit that scares us. When you’re a kid and you overcome your fear of heights by jumping off the rocks and into the sea, then you’ve learnt something. Nowadays, they jump off the digital abyss and life is nowhere near as exhilarating. I worry that we are breeding a generation of emotionally void little people.

As parents, there are few hand-books on how to cope with the emotional hardening brought about by those little screens. Think back 10 years ago, and these was never such an issue. Today, it’s all I hear parents talk about.

What’s the solution? — I don’t think there’s a clear cut guide on how to handle the device-generation. Each kid is different, but I do know the antidote for a listless teenager. Treat them like dogs….- Yes, you read right… Treat them like dogs. A happy dog requires a walk. A tired dog is a happy dog. Walk your children. Walk them until they’re sick of walking… and then walk them some more. Do physical things. Roughhouse with them. Remind them that the world is real and not to be found in the brilliant resolution of a smartphone. We live in one of the most amazing places in the world and it wants to feel the stomp of our feet on it. When you’re out in nature, it’s a time to re-connect with your kids. Sore feet, sweaty clothing, thirsty throats are immediate and that’s a good thing. Get them involved in making sandwiches for the walk. — The phone stays behind and presto… you’ve managed to pull them back into the real world, albeit just long enough for them to remember what your first name is.

So, as a parent, I implore you –  you’re only allowed to moan about the state of things AFTER  you yourself have been for a good long stroll with them.

– Oh, and don’t forget the dog.

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