The Curse of the Smartphone

I’m so happy to see increasing calls for people to put down their smartphones. It’s about time. I think driving became much more dangerous once people started texting while driving. I hate seeing parents out pushing their little ones in strollers or grocery carts and completely ignoring them because they’ve found someone more interesting on their phones. Then there are the people who can no longer hold a face-to-face conversation with another person without repeatedly checking their phones. Ugh!

I do think cell phones are great for security. I bought my first cell phone about 20 years ago, and I still have a dumbphone. The beauty of it is that I can put it in my pocket on mute and hardly know that it’s there, but if my car doesn’t start, I can give my husband a call without leaving the vehicle. Occasionally, I’ll send one of my kids a text to let them know my ETA, but otherwise I rarely text and don’t really understand what on earth is so important that people need to be calling or texting each other all the time, especially while they’re shopping, at the doctor’s office, etc.

I have to wonder if my dislike of smartphones is just a sign of my impending old age. Are there any young people out there who think like I do? I doubt it.

Has Facebook Stolen Childhood?


I used to think that it was up to parents to prevent young kids from using cell phones and older kids from using Facebook, and that by doing so, they’d be able to keep their kids from getting sucked into these time wasters.

Of course, my kids are grown, so what did I know? It wasn’t until I learned that my little nephew was being left out of play dates and birthday parties because he didn’t have a phone to receive group texts on (apparently parents don’t “do” printed or phoned party invitations anymore) that I realized just how pervasive texting has become.

Then there’s Facebook. Supposedly off limits to children under 13, it’s a huge source of bullying among the preteen and young teen set. Some kids have been driven to suicide by online bullying; how tragic!

One might think the key to preventing trouble on Facebook is to limit your kids’ time on the Internet. I was able to do that with my crew, who only had access to a desktop computer in our main living area for years. But today’s kids, who have phones to text with so they won’t be left out of the social scene, can also access the Internet and therefore Facebook on those same phones.

Parents can’t possibly supervise kids on their phones 24/7. I suppose they could make their kids check their phones at the door when they come home, but I’m getting the impression that today it would be considered child abuse to do so. Besides, some moms are too busy on Twitter and Facebook themselves to monitor their children’s phone usage anyways.

Do I sound like a curmudgeon? I feel like one. I’m with the writer who recently said that Facebook has stolen childhood. I’m not sure how parents can recapture childhood for their kids once they’ve given them phones (and unlimited use of them), but it would be worth a try.

I spent much of my childhood playing and reading books. My kids did the same. Will they be the last generation to have done so?

Eight Ways to Make Parenting a Pleasure


Parenting is a big job, and can also be a rewarding one. Ultimately, it will most likely be a pleasure when the proper ground work has been done. Here are eight tips to help you lay that ground work so you can enjoy parenting your children in all their stages of growth.

#1: Minimize Choices

Yes, it’s important to develop independence in our children by letting them make choices: Red shirt or blue shirt? Ice cream or cookies? But if every decision becomes theirs, we raise kids who think they’re in charge. Let them make choices sometimes, but make sure most of the decisions are yours. As your children grow up, you can gradually cede control of more issues to them. But if your kids are under age 12, you should still be fully in charge. This keeps life uncomplicated and less stressful.

#2: Limit Activities

An overload of activities is a real problem for many families. Just because something is offered doesn’t mean your child has to do it. And the more children you have, the fewer activities should be packed into the hours after school and on weekends. Limit your children to one activity per semester and watch your stress level decrease. Be sure the activity each one attends is related to their interests, not yours. And be willing to let them switch if they discover something isn’t their thing. Be very selective with organized activities and watch your unstructured, relaxed family time grow and become more fun.

#3: Develop True Self Esteem with Chores

If your five-year-old doesn’t make her bed or set the table, or your twelve-year-old doesn’t do his own laundry, my question to you is: Why not? Kids are completely capable of doing chores around the house. More importantly, the self esteem they develop by being part of the household team is far more genuine that what develops when you tell them how special they are all the time. Put your kids to work around the house at age-appropriate tasks and you’ll relieve some of your own burden while building your child’s self-esteem in a logical and healthy way.

#4: Take a Child to Lunch

Alone, just with you. Or take one to a movie, a park, or to see Grandma. Build your relationship with your child while talking in the car en route, while laughing together and while just enjoying each other’s company. I didn’t do this enough with each of my four children, but when I did it do it, we always had a great time. (Note: the more children you have, the more important this tip is.)

#5: Limit Your Use of Technology

Children who are forced to interrupt their parents to express their needs because their parents are always on their phones (talking, texting or surfing) often become very demanding children. When your child is born, three umbilical cords need to be cut: his to his mother, and his parents’ to their devices. Limit your use of technology during your child’s waking hours and you’ll raise a happier child. Besides, there’s nothing sadder than seeing a parent pushing a child in a cart through the grocery and ignoring him because they’re on the phone.

#6: Keep your #1 Interest

Once we become parents, we find that we don’t have time to do all the things we like to do. This is natural, but be sure to make time for your favorite activity, whether it’s reading, playing basketball or making things by hand, like quilts or guitars. Even if you only get to do it once a month, it will help you relax and remember who you are, because in the parenting trenches, it’s easy to forget that you’re anyone but Mommy or Daddy. As your children grow and become more independent, you will get to do more of your favorite things, but for now, one thing is probably all you can squeeze in. Enjoy yourself when you can!

#7: Bedtime

A regular (and reasonable) bedtime is extremely important. It produces rested kids and relaxed parents. If you start when your children are tiny, this habit will be easier to create and maintain. Studies show that today’s children are having learning difficulties because they’re not well-rested. Put them to bed at an age-appropriate time (always before 9 p.m.) and then go do something for yourself: surf Facebook or Pinterest, have a beer, spoon with your spouse… I’m sure you can think of something. Having that time at the end of each day is invaluable for managing stress and becoming a great parent.

#8: Don’t Expect Perfection

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, you find yourself or your child losing it. Don’t forget that there are no perfect parents; children can’t be perfect, either. Besides, children are constantly changing and growing, which brings new challenges. Expect change, expect imperfection, love your child (remember, love is a verb) and go easy on yourself.

The High School Learning Experience: How Do Homeschoolers Compare?

So, homeschooling parent, think your teens are learning as much at home as they would learn in high school?

We know from our own childhood experience that the school day is full of interruptions and inconsistencies. Whenever you put 30 kids in a room, you create an environment that’s not exactly conducive to concentration.

But something’s changed since we were young, something that makes it even harder to learn: cell phones. Where I live, the high schools banned cell phones until 2007, when they allowed students to carry them as long as they were turned off and put away during class.

Guess what? It was too hard to enforce that rule, so now kids text throughout class. Teachers are worried that students could be texting test answers to each other. Perhaps, but at the very least, I think we can assume they aren’t paying attention to the teacher if they’re busy texting:

“Cell phone use continues to grow. Texting is more common, and many students are adept at sending silent text messages from their pockets. They don’t even look at the keypad.”

One teacher said, “Every kid has one, and they’re used covertly, regularly.”

I understand that today’s kids are good at multitasking, but I doubt that they can absorb much information while they’re busy corresponding with other people via texting.

Homeschooling parents needn’t worry whether their kids are learning as much as their publicly schooled friends. I’d say they’re way ahead of them if their home life affords them regular uninterrupted periods of time for reading, writing and doing math. Seriously, if kids can text during class, public high school has become a joke.

Exercises in Frugality, Part 3

Prepaid Cell Phones

I’m not big on cell phones. I like being unreachable when I’m out and about. (Even when I’m in the middle of something at home, I’ve been known to ignore the landline when it rings unless it’s one of my kids.) But I like having a phone when we travel, or when I’m out driving our elderly minivan, so I can call for help if it breaks down.

I’ve bought TracFones for years. Some were good, a couple not-so-good. But this latest one is awesome. I bought it after we moved a few months ago, since I had to change the area code anyway.

I paid $18 for the phone, which has double-minutes-for-life, meaning every time I load it up with minutes I’ll get double what I purchased at no extra charge. I also bought a 60-minute card for an additional $20. Before adding the minutes I searched out a promo code (search words: “Tracfone promo code”) on the Internet for 60 free minutes with the purchase of a 60-minute card. Thus I got 180 minutes (and four months’ worth of service) added to my phone, at a rate of just over 11 cents a minute.

Of course, I don’t use it for chit-chat, so I rarely use up the minutes before the service date is up. But I don’t really want to be on the phone while driving or grocery shopping anyway.

The best part? I don’t get a monthly bill, and the taxes are included. I’ve seen other people’s monthly cell phone bills, and I can’t believe how expensive they are. In the past, we’ve spent about $10/month for TracFones. With double-minutes-for-life, it should be even cheaper.