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So, links to a clip of Louis CK talking about cell phones on Conan were floating around a few weeks ago, and I finally took a few minutes to watch. Interesting! And with the topic of mainstream mantras this month, I thought it would be an opportune time to talk about a couple of the ideas he touched on from an unschooling perspective.
First off, in the end, I don’t think it was really about cell phones, though that’s where a lot of the ensuing conversation went, helped along by the title of the youtube clip, Louis CK Hates Cell Phones. As an unschooling parent, my reaction to any parent controlling access to anything, is always going to be, “Oh, be careful with that, it probably won’t work out like you hope.”
Restricting a person’s access to anything makes them all the more curious and intent. It’s human nature to want to explore. His argument is that just because everyone else is mindlessly using cell phones, doesn’t mean his daughters need to as well just to fit in. And I agree, they don’t “have to” have a cell phone just because everyone else seems to have one. But the real and important question is, do they want one?
If they do, as a parent, which way will allow you to better help them figure out how it, whatever it is—cell phones, video games, TV etc—best fits into their lives? To use the tired “if everyone else jumped off a bridge…” analogy and refuse access? Or to be with them, having conversations about it all as they explore? Banning access to things that have become an integral part of our communities makes even less sense: over the last decade, cell phones have become an important communication tool. No, not everyone “has to” have a cell phone, but if they want to use one, they are in good company.
The argument that face-to-face communication is a richer experience doesn’t negate the fact that digital tools have brought a breadth to communication that is also very valuable. As a society we are figuring out ways to improve our communication through these newer digital channels—emoticons come quickly to mind—and our language is evolving. This is the world our children will live in as adults, so gaining experience with these tools and the nuances of digital communication will be very valuable as they step further out into the world.
Not only does refusing access mean they will probably yearn for it even more, they will probably sneak access when the opportunity arises. It also means that if any questions or challenges crop up, they won’t feel comfortable coming to you to talk through them because they know they’ll get in trouble. It means that, as a parent, you’ve probably painted yourself out of the picture regarding something you feel strongly about. You’ve made your point, but at what cost?
That said, I think the bigger conversation he was trying to share was about being comfortable with ourselves. Having just written a blog post about busyness and giving our children time to be, that jumped out at me. And his point is well-taken. Cell phones do give us quick and easy access to people and often, the online world, and as such when we’re feeling overwhelmed, they can be an easy way to distract ourselves. So can books, and TV, and video games, and busy schedules.
But better than banning any or all of these, I think it’s more helpful to figure out ways to stay in touch with ourselves, to ask ourselves these kinds of questions, and to talk about it with our children. These thoughts and conversations will help each of us better understand ourselves, alongside being able to text or call a friend when we want to talk to them.
With this stance he’s trying to force that “time to be”, deciding unilaterally that it will be taken out of his daughters’ cell phone time. But if his goal is to help his children become more comfortable with themselves, to take the time to move through uncomfortable moments instead of distracting themselves with busyness, there are other ways to go about it. He can choose not to add to the overall busyness of their lives, rather, through experience, helping them discover the level of activity they prefer. He can give them the time and space to explore the ways in which they enjoy taking that time for introspection, for contemplation. Find those times and support them. Chances are they won’t be found in those moments when his daughters were thinking, “if I had a cell phone, I’d be using it right now”—those would be moments when they were looking to reach out, not in.
The levels of busyness and distraction in our lives are great questions to explore. Everyone will likely have different answers that will change over time, but we can actively support those we love as they too explore those questions.