Making A Lemonade With Only
A Comprehensive Guide To Your Parent-Kid-Smartphone Era
Nim Bar-Levin, co-Founder of Jonathan, Daniel and Amit
Also co-Founder of Dynamo Tech Ltd.
35 minutes read
(not including the links inside - for deep read)
* The two ingredients are:
1 Parent with smartphone
1 Kid with smartphone
The goal of this Guide is to help Parents create their own strategy once they decided to give their Kid a personal smartphone.
A strategy which will create value for both their Kid and themselves.
Why did I invest hundreds of hours in writing this Guide?
Well - I’m two-times lucky: I am a Parent and I am also a tech entrepreneur in the Parenting domain. So - I simply feel that it’ll be a crime not to share with you - my fellow Parents - the vast and deep knowledge I gained since I became this double headed (friendly) monster.
How did I create this Guide?
Put simply: I analysed all the thousands of pages in books, articles and research I read in past years about Parenting, Technology and Parenting&Technology, plus the hundreds of hours in Parenting workshops my wife and I participated in, plus the insights from Dynamo (the startup I co-Founded in 2018), and of course - the countless hours I invested in Jonathan, Daniel and Amit - our sweet little monkeys.
Put sophisticatedly: While the Forward part of the Guide is somewhat “skip-able” - please don’t skip this part since once you understand the model I created for the Guide, you would have a deeper understanding of the actionable concepts I offer in the Guide itself. I wanted to offer you (and myself) a simple way to better understand the reason-why behind each one of the actionable recommendations I came up with in the main part of the Guide. I’d like to share my model with you now:
The model has a threefold basis. It was hard for me to leave out so many great concepts in the arena of the Guide - Parents, Kids, Smartphones - but I wanted to narrow down the source list for better results, so here are the three building blocks of my model:
The Alfred Adler “Individual Psychology” theory and its Parenting implementation by Rudolf Dreikurs. Please trust me when I “squeeze in” the Adler and Dreikurs points of view into three verticals only: Equality, Valuablity, Belonging. In a nutshell: All people are equal; All people want to feel they create value; All people want to feel a sense of belonging.
Just to remove any any any doubt - Kids are people, too.
The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do book and concept by Judith Rich-Harris. Judith was (unfortunately she died on December 2018) the “bad kid” of the Psychology branch she researched and published in, as she introduced different if not opposite opinions and approaches about parenthood (maybe this is the reason I like her so much…). Again - trying to “squeeze in” a concept into a couple of lines - Judith said that there are three factors which affect Kids during their childhood:
The 1st Circle - Parent(s), close caregivers like grandparents/nannies;
The 2nd Circle - Kids in the same class/school/street/neighborhood.
While Judith said that the Genes are responsible for ~50% of the Kid’s behavior-then-adulthood - hence ~50% of our Kid’s personality cannot be affected for better or for worse by us… - she “dazzled” the world with “proving” that the second most affecting factor is the 2nd circle/environment. By far.
So her bottom line was that us Parents should not blame ourselves too much for the “unsuccessful adults” that we raised nor of course win prizes for the “successful adults” that came out of our family. On the positive side Judith does say what can Parents do in order to affect their Kids positively - eg upgrading their 2nd circle (external environment) by moving to a better neighborhood/school.
Now here is the main update/upgrade I offer (if I may): These days the 2nd circle is mainly built upon the digital world. Multi players games, comments and reactions, cyberbullying and other social 2nd circle activities are in fact within the screens. If you agree with Judith and with this development of mine - it means that smartphones have a tremendous effect on our Kids and their personalities.
How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results book and concept by Esther Wojcicki. Esther’s concept (for Parents to raise successful Kids-then-adults) is built on five blocks which spell TRICK: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, Kindness. Esther specifies per each one of the five blocks how us Parents should treat our Kids (and ourselves…) in order to bring the most out of our Kids (and ourselves...). Esther’s point of view is super interesting as not only she brings stories from her own childhood and of course her own “TRICK” parenting (she has three girls - the CEO of YouTube, CEO of 23andMe and a Professor) but also she brings stories about the many Kids she “TRICK”-educated for almost 40 years (in Palo Alto High School).
While I guess that the default reaction after reading those short summaries above is that the three concepts don't fit each other, right? Esther and Judith would have argued whether Esther did influence her girls or was it the “just” the environment; Adler&Dreikurs would have told Esther and Judith that their concepts do not serve/feed the need for a feeling of belonging (Esther) and feeling valuable (Judith). While we will never know as besides Esther (may she live as much as she desires) the others are not with us anymore, I believe that those three concepts are aligned, or to be exact - they are more like completing each other. Specifically when it comes to the domain I’m interested and work in for the past couple of years and for the ones ahead: The Parent-Kid-Smartphone arena.
In the actionable recommendations section of the Guide below you will see that every recommendation of mine is built on top of those three strong concepts that were created by those powerful and smart men and women. Simply look for “The threefold model support” paragraph following each recommendation below.
So - Thank you Adler, Dreikurs, Rich-Harris and Wojcicki for constructing my building blocks.
So - Let’s start with the workbook itself!
* In the Guide I always capitalize the words Parent and Kid since like in real life - these two types of human-beings are the world’s most valuable capital.
What is the Parent-Kid-Smartphone arena, anyway?
A situation (or a potential future situation) where a Parent has a Kid, and the Kid has a personal smartphone of his/her own.
When does a Parent enter the arena?
I saw many Parents who think they enter this arena only after giving their Kid a smartphone. Hmmmm this is where usually the problem begins. Why? Let’s continue with the arena metaphor: Imagine that you are a Sumo fighter who has been challenged by another Sumo fighter to a fight - in six months time. When will you start planning and training? Once you enter the arena in six months from now, or already now?
Now. And the sooner the better.
So - the first thing is to understand that even if your Kid doesn’t have a smartphone - but will get one in a couple of months/years - congratz! You’re already in the arena.
What are the characteristics of the Parent-Kid-Smartphone arena?
Just kiddin’ :-)
The first thing to remember is that there are two types of human beings in this triangle: Adults-Parents and Youngsters-Kids. You cannot define nor enter the arena unless you keep that in mind. So when we examine this arena we should also do it from both the Parent’s and the Kid’s points of view.
So what are the common characteristics of the arena?
The months/years before giving your Kid a smartphone
Kid is nudging. The most common argument is “everybody in the class has a smartphone already”.
Parent is trying to avoid the act of giving the smartphone or to at least postpone it.
Parent is sniffing around to see who among the other Parents - with Kids the same age - gave already smartphones.
Kid is using a Parent’s smartphone or “living room tablet” - but wants to take ownership of the device for him/herself.
Kid is watching less and less TV (ie big screen) and more and more smartphone-based content.
Parent is talking with his/her spouse about the subject and in many cases one is being appointed (usually in the couple’s subconscious) as the one in charge of this whole issue.
The Parent in charge is looking for some information about the issue - what is the right age to give a smartphone? What are the risks and dangers? Which type of smartphone is suitable? What is too much screentime? Which apps are black/white listed? Can the smartphone create value? And more.
Parent is frustrated as he/she cannot find straightforward answers to the many questions.
At some point the Parents let go and give their Kid a smartphone.
Once you gave your Kid a smartphone
Kid is relieved and happy. For a day.
Parent is relieved and happy for as long as the Kid is. As said - a single day ;-)
The months/years after giving your Kid a smartphone
The Kid can play for countless amount of hours
The Parent is freaking out
Buy me buy me buuuuy meeeee
The Kid keeps asking to buy digital stuff for the apps
The Parent doesn’t understand what is the value here - but allows a purchase from time to time
The Kid is never satisfied - never has enough (screentime/purchases/apps/battery/device/other)
The Parent feels that the Kid has had enough - and that enough is enough
The Kid keeps moving from one trend to another - mainly from one app to another
The Parent feels that since he/she invested in the Kid’s current “the best app ever” - the Kid should stick to it at least for a while
The Kid ranks the smartphone time as high priority - and behaves accordingly
The Parent wishes for less smartphone time and more physical outdoor and intelligent indoor activities
The Kid finds a lot of social aspects inside the smartphone (note: I’m not saying negative or positive - just saying social)
The Parent feels that not only the smartphone time is not social - it is anti-social and is counter productive socially speaking
So what should we - Parents - actually do?
The recommendations below are not standalone ones. In two meanings: First - you shouldn’t think that once you implemented one recommendation - even extremely well - your job is over. The second meaning is that some will work for you and your family and some will not hence you should mix & match the recommendations into a unique blend for you and your unique family.
The mother of all recommendations: A Strategy.
If you read only one paragraph from the Guide please make sure this is the one.
One of our problems as Parents is that we have not thought - in advance - about this or that topic in our parenting. So, what happens is that we “go with the flow”, and react post events rather than preparing before the event happens. Do not go with the flow when it comes to your Kids and their smartphones. Think about your personal strategy as Parents, and do it in advance.
Don’t be like a falling leaf - letting the winds, that is - society, experts, school, peer pressure and of course your own Kid - to guide your track. Control the winds - think and create your own strategy first and then implement it. As long as you have a strategy - you are 90% through. Even if you don’t read/listen to anything and anyone (including this Guide). You have the answers within you.
This Guide I made is merely a way to structure your existing instincts in a logical way which will “approve” them, nothing more. So if you think you know what is right for you and for your family when it comes to the Parent-Kid-Smartphone arena - go ahead and write it down, make sure your Kid is aware of it and follow it as much as you and your Kid can. Good luck!!
Nevertheless, if you wish to get some ideas for such a strategy - I’m sharing mine with you here below, and backing it with the threefold model I presented in the first part of the Guide.
Note: when written in the “The threefold model support” section (below each recommendation) “A&D” it means Adler and Dreikurs; “RH” means Rich-Harris; “Woj” means Wojcicki. Want to read about them again? Go back to the Forward chapter above.
Actionable Recommendation: Positive Approach.
I chose the “happiness & sunshine approach” for my strategy in the Parent-Kid-Smartphone arena of my family. No - I do not think that everything is happy nor sun-shining in this arena. But this is more of a general vibe. “...the best way to fight the darkness is to enhance the light” is one of A.D. Gordon’s quotes I like most, and besides my strategy which is based on it, the startup I co-Founded (Dynamo) is based on it and of course - the following recommendations as well.
The threefold model support:
When going through the concepts of A&D, RH and Woj you can learn that they all came from a positive place towards a positive one. Think about the optimism A&D had to have when they started with equality as a basic principle - more than 100 years ago! Yes - equality for both genders and for Kids and bottom line for all. Woj is also coming from a place of affecting our Kids in a positive way and RH also (they just suggest two different ways).
Actionable Recommendation: It all starts with/in us.
When was the last time your Kid asked for your attention and heard you saying “Just a second sweetie, I’m finishing writing the text message and I’m giving you my full attention in one minute” - then after one minute you actually did? When was the last time your Kid saw you entering the house all sweating after a good outdoor activity - while leaving your phone on the kitchen table? When was the last time your Kid saw you read a book and maybe even talking about the book with the family members?
If we will not behave the way we wish our (young) Kids to behave - at least in high level - we cannot expect them to behave that way.
I’m not saying that everyone should workout daily, nor reading books daily - I’m just saying that what they see is what you get.
The threefold model support:
While the obvious support to this point is by Woj - as she is dealing a lot with not “only” role modeling but with our whole being and history (childhood) as ones which affect our Kids - I would say that “even” RH would say the same about the role modeling “absorbed” by the 2nd circle and the parents should work on making sure that the role modeling of the 2nd circle is positive and effective. Bottom line Parents: We should be making sure that both our own role modeling is of positive nature but also the surroundings’ role modeling. We have a hard job. I know… When looking at A&D the role modeling derives from the simple equality principle: The Parents has rights and duties exactly as the Kid has. Of course - the Kid will not drive a car - or in our case sit “working” in front of a PC all day - but the concept of checks and balances for the smartphone should be applied on all family members. Or as Dreikurs says it clearly in his ABC for Parenting: GOLDEN RULE: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
Actionable Recommendation: Expectations.
It’s all about expectations. Or more precisely - setting them. In advance.
Setting expectations starts with analysing your own desires (with regards to the Parent-Kid-Smartphone arena), and then the expectations from yourself. Last step is to define and share with your Kid the expectations from him/her. Sounds like an easy thing to do? It’s not. Try to write it down and see how difficult it is. I recommend to keep it short in the beginning - one sentence for each expectation, and not more than three expectations in total. An example for an expectation: I expect that smartphones will not become a ground for fighting and arguing in our family.
The threefold model support:
I believe that RH would have supported this recommendation from the external point of view - to make sure we think about the expectations of how to behave with the 2nd circle (a classic - peer pressure to cyberbully someone), and Woj would have put the emphasis on the internal point of view - a blend of trusting the Kid (to a “safety extent”) and giving him/her a sense of independency with the smartphone. A&D could add that family expectations - once “marketed” right would be considered as a unique family characteristic and as such - would bring the sense of belonging to the family to higher levels as well as boundaries which provides a kid the safety he needs in order to move freely within the boundaries.
Actionable Recommendation: Patience. Tons of it.
I’m a semi-pro/pro-amateur mountain biker for almost two decades. While I had a secret goal to bring all my Kids to ride real bicycles (ie no training wheels) as early as possible - I knew that the fact that I’m over-motivated will be counterproductive. So I said to myself every time we all went out (practicing) riding to simply be patient. My Kids tested me - dozens of times they asked to go back home after less than 5 minutes of practice. I always agreed. Every time. Eventually - with lots of patience (and empathy and encouragement) I had success: The twins rode real bikes when they were 2.5 y/o while I probably broke some record as my young one started when he was 2 years and 3 months old.
Your Kids will test you. Every day - sometimes numerous times a day. Be patient and keep in mind that if you want something very much - for example an expected smartphone-related behavior by your Kids - your over-motivation might be counterproductive.
The threefold model support:
Woj would “pull” the Kindness and collaboration elements out of her TRICK box as being patient immediately brings your Kindness level up and this would also assist to collaborate better in this family issue (rather than only a Parent issue or a Kid issue). RH would support as we ought to be very patient to the external (2nd circle) effects. It’s very hard not to immediately blame the friends/system/world but what we should do is to analyse - patiently - the actual personal effect of the 2nd circle on our Kids - and then to decide what can and cannot be done about it. A&D would propose their different models of analysis for events and would suggest us Parents to try to “think first, act later” (by talking and/or modifying the strategy).
Actionable Recommendation: Balance.
I don’t want my Kids reading books every day all day or doing sports all day or using the smartphone all day. I want some time allocated for each activity.
I want my Kids to divide their free time evenly between friends time, reading time, outdoor time and not to forget - smartphone time. Explain it to your Kids - that the smartphone is not bad or good - it’s the usage - quantity and quality - which matters. Once your Kids understand that you ask for a balance between different activities rather than to prohibit smartphone activity - you’re on the right track.
The threefold model support:
A&D would argue that the Kid has ultimate goals behind each act (mainly to feel a sense of belonging and to feel valuable), and that we need to find ways for him/her to get closer to the goals and the best way to find the best way (smartphone game, outdoor activities, reading a book, other) is to bring the Kid to try many different options. Woj has 5 different elements to her model and each one of them demands different types of activities: with friends and alone, indoor and outdoor, tech and “simple” etc. RH would suggest that smartphones are part of the 2nd circle and as such should have some sort of a limit or at least management - to make sure that it has balanced effects (positive and negative).
Actionable Recommendation: It’s ok to be lazy... But only after you’ve been not.
We are all lazy. The ones who seem not lazy are simply fighting it well. I think that laziness is the mother of all inventions (why on earth do we need the window in the car to be opened and closed with a single press? Can’t we just press a button all the way??). Having said that - I noticed that when it comes to our Kids it’s ok to be lazy only after being the opposite. For example - I’m sure that reading this long paper is hard. And implementing only 2-3 of the recommendations here is super-hard. But once you enter the Parent-Kid-Smartphone arena after investigating it a bit, and doing something about it (eg reading this paper and implementing some of it) - you can “lay back” and be lazy as you already set the tone and expectations as well as process. We’re humans, it’s ok.
The threefold model support:
All my “friends” here - Adler, Dreikurs, Rich-Harris and Wojcicki - have the same method of work for us Parents: Learn hard, deploy right. In the sense that once you get the(ir) concept and implement it - you “only” need to maintain it and to modify your implementations from time to time.
Actionable Recommendation: Agreement. Signed.
Yes. An agreement. The legal piece of paper most of us hate to read, let alone write.
There are many reasons to write such a document (and you guessed it - to print it and to sign it by everyone). Here are some: “Writing is the opposite of forgetting” - and it’s very easy to forget what we (yes “we” - the Kids and Parents together) agreed on. It gives everything and everyone involved a vibe of seriousness. It helps you - the Parent - to “blame” the agreement for an action the Kid dislikes (for example “take your phone off the dinner table as we all signed in the agreement, remember?”). Since the agreement is a “growing” document - it shows the Kids that they matured and progressed well, for example in the first agreement the Kid was not allowed to take the smartphone to a friend’s house but now - after a year - he can (after the agreement is amended of course).
Tip: Ask your Kids to think and draft a couple of clauses for this agreement and if you’re “brave” - ask them to have at least one that is binding you - the Parents ;-)
Here is our own family agreement.
The threefold model support:
Woj would probably say that writing the family rules and strategy shows respect and also - brings trust as the Kids will be “left alone” - in the good sense. RH may say that structuring the family rules in such a “strict” way (a lawyer-ish signed paper) would put the negative effects of the 2nd circle in boundaries as the Parents and Kids will know what is legit to do in/with the 2nd circle and what is not. A&D would appreciate the sense of independence of the Kids and their feelings as a contributing member of the family as they were part of this whole family act.
Actionable Recommendation: Schedule. Dynamic yet always printed.
Yes. A timetable. Every day of the week with its own schedule. Starting with the moment the Kid opens his/her eyes till the moment the lights are out. Similar to the agreement recommendation - the schedule shows respect to your strategy, expectations and process. I highly recommend printing it and hanging it in a visible place (in our case it is hung next to the main door). The printed schedule is the easiest way to quickly see what is expected to happen and not happen every day. By the way - the schedule is more dynamic than the agreement as on spring and summer breaks we create a different schedule than the routine one and the family-vacations one, for example. Oh - and the screens schedule is a great place to “squeeze in” the Kid’s home responsibilities and family duties.
Here is our own family routine schedule.
The threefold model support:
Similar to the printed agreement recommendation - the three concepts aligned with printing the schedule but in this case since the schedule is something the Kids look at every day (unlike the agreement) - the positive effects should be even amplified and more effective.
Actionable Recommendation: Use them as your digital assistant (a-la Alexa and others).
The smartphones are amazing tools. Tools that serve us on a daily basis. We could (and if you ask me - should) teach our Kids how to use smartphones to help us. You’re driving the car? Great! Ask your Kid to write a text message or to navigate to the place you’re riding to. Afraid that he/she will miss a turn? Let him/her navigate to places you know the way to already (shhh it’ll be our little secret…). Need to print something? Ask the Kid to air-print it for you. Forgot an ingredient from a recipe? Ask him/her to Google it. The smartphone is not only a tool in your hands, it’s a tool in theirs, also.
The threefold model support:
RH concept says that the 2nd circle affects most but there’s no doubt that as long as we Parents interact with the Kid more and more - digitally or offline - our effect is bigger. So by trying to use the smartphone as a basis for positive interaction between our Kids and us - our own effect is stronger. Woj would add that letting your Kid work for you with your own smartphone shows that you trust him and that you think he’s independent enough to deal with “adults tasks”. A&D would simply say that the Kid will feel so valuable and so contributing that he will thank you immediately and in the long run.
Actionable Recommendation: Get a ticket to their world every now and then.
If you read this and you’re older than 30 - you are a “digital immigrant”. It means that you (like myself) were not born into the digital world but immigrated to it through the years. Your Kid is a “digital native”. As such - he/she can teach you a lot about this world, or more accurately - their world. Sit with them, ask them to explain the new game, the new feature, the new app. Show them that they can teach you something about the world. Besides the fact that it’s super empowering for them, it will explain to you at least some of the reasons they are so into this world, and will bring you to think about alternatives outside the digital world.
The threefold model support:
Per RH’s concept - one way to “fight” negative influence of the 2nd circle is to move them to a different, better 2nd circle. I suggest that RH would agree that being with them in the 2nd circle helps a lot as well. And this is exactly what it means here - to be with them and to learn from them about their 2nd circle. Woj would offer that both respect and collaboration building blocks could become stronger as the Parent shows respect to the Kid’s world plus playing together (you must try it! But prepare to lose…) is a great way to interact in a collaboration act. A&D would bring the equality as the Kid experiences his/her Parent as equal to him/her in the sense that the Parent can play (and lose) exactly like a Kid.
Actionable Recommendation: Sharing is Caring.
Your Kid(s) should be part of this whole preparation and actions from A to Z. Share with them your concerns and goals and ask for their advice from time to time. It’s not that they know best, but you don’t either… Together you will find the right way, while the “togetherness” is the key here. Bring them to your adult-Parent-responsible world but also let them bring you to their young-Kid-naive world. It’ll make everything easier and much more sustainable.
The threefold model support:
A&D talk a lot about family council and the ability of each member to talk freely - Parents and Kids alike - hence bringing the Kid to feel a strong sense of belonging to the family. Woj would say that bringing the Kid to such an important process - and from the very beginning - shows trust and respect. RH would suggest that having the Kid part of such a process will teach us more about his/her 2nd circle. This way we’d be able to implement in our strategy, planning and process reg smartphone usage various decisions that will lower the negative effects of the 2nd circle.
I got you this far so I think now is the time to simply equip you with a short To Do list and to wish you all the best with acting upon this important layer in our lives - as well as our Kids’ lives.
Technology is here to stay. Let’s analyse it, define its boundaries and implement our thoughts and strategy in the best way and pace for our beloved family members.
ToDo towards TaDa!
Reading: The ABC’s of Parenting by Dreikurs (very short and to the point). Link
Reading: The Nurture Assumption book. Link
Reading: How to Raise Successful People book. Link
Participating: Adler-based Parenting workshops (Google your local Adler institute)
Writing, printing, signing: Smartphones usage agreements. Link (to our family agreement)
Writing, printing, hanging: Screens schedule. Link (to our family schedule)
Checking: Dynamo - Happiness. Not Parental Control.™ www.dynamo.fyi