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February 27, 2020

What Happened when I Forced my 13-Year-Old to Ditch his Phone.

“This is so dumb!”

“Why are you punishing me?” “I have nothing to do!” “I am sooo bored.”

All rapid-fire, raised voice, flushed face responses from my 13-year-old boy to my idea of screenless Wednesdays.

Yeesh! I knew there would be pushback—but dayuumm! If ever I doubted how deeply attached my kiddo was to his devices, I was summarily schooled the day I said, “No more screens on Wednesdays. We are going to set our phones aside and not Google or watch anything.”

Delivered with much more confidence in my head than my voice belied when I set the boundary, I wasn’t ready for the blowback.

He pleaded. I reasoned. His tone was caustic, mine was mostly calm: “This isn’t punishment. I’m here to support you and find things to do. Let’s find a project together.” Nope. Ten more minutes of whining, until I ended it with, “I understand you are mad at me and might be bored. I’m okay with that. Let me know when you want to figure out dinner. I have some laundry to do.”

This gave me some space to breathe.

He sat in his room without his laptop or phone for a while, petting his cat, and then came and found me, asking, “Can we get Asian food tonight? It’s a school night.” “Sure. No prob. Let’s go,” I responded, eager for a change of venue.

What happened over dinner was the beginning of a transformation.

We chatted. We giggled. We really saw each other and talked about school and some of our upcoming travels. When a question came up about our next trip, he was surprised I didn’t whip out my phone and ask Google. I just said, “I’ll find out later if it still seems important.” No not-so-subtle mention of my phone being at home with his, just gently stating with my actions that being here with him now was more important than getting my trivial query satisfied.

The light was coming back to his face. We were in this together. We enjoyed our meal and headed home. I was even more elated at what came next.

He went to his room again, much less pouty, while I put away the leftovers. He then sought me out and gave me a single-dart Nerf pistol. “Let’s play in the basement.” It had been a minute since he wanted to battle with me, so I said, “Oh, yeah. It’s on!”

After round one, we expanded our range to the whole house. Adding music was a great idea so we couldn’t hear each other sneaking around to get the best shot. By the time we dimmed the lights and had a few more rounds, we were shrieking with laughter when our hiding places were discovered and we tried to land our single dart. “This is so much fun. We should invite some more people and get spookier music!” he said.

Yes! Let’s do that.

Consider this your invitation to try a screenless Wednesday with your fam in whatever form that takes for you, with or without spooky music. The only rules are that you have to be all in and set the boundaries with love.

That’s all parenting is, after all. So easy—and the biggest challenge you will ever stare down.

Just remember you get one shot. Make it count.

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Che Freeman  |  Contribution: 1,675

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