Many parents, like me, use a parental control feature to limit the time and content of their children’s screen time. For me, it is the Screen Time app on the iPhone–and my 12-year-old daughter is not a fan!
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “Parental Control”. It conjures up images of a wise parent protecting an immature child, who cannot resist the allure of screens. But the phrase also makes me think of parental self-control. And recently I’ve been thinking about Screen Time and other oversight and control mechanisms in what I feel like might be a healthier and more effective way.
Parental Out Of Control
I have a confession to make–I am not always my best self as a parent.
Which is awkward since I’m constantly dropping pearls of wisdom on my kids, like “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”, “Do it now or it doesn’t get done” and of course, “Just have fun and do your best!”
But sometimes I don’t follow those wise words; I’ve said unkind words, I’ve procrastinated on important tasks, and I have even performed household tasks with a crappy attitude.
In fact, just last month when I interceded in a nasty argument between two daughters over who would wear a pair of shorts, I not only lost my temper and yelled at them, I even said they were acting like selfish and spoiled people. While factually true, my delivery left a lot to be desired. For example, I could have frothed at the mouth less, or refrained from pointing my finger in the air like a cartoon angry librarian.
One of my daughters took a break from fighting to turn to me and say with vehemence, “Dad, you tell us that if we can’t say something nice we shouldn’t say anything at all. But what you just said wasn’t very nice! You’re a hypocrite!”
Even If You Make A Mistake, You Are Still The Parent
I had to admit she was right! I was being a hypocrite–but I still made Kid A give Kid B’s shorts back.
Because even if I make a mistake, I’m still dad!
So this is my first point. As parents, we are imperfect (well, at least I am) but we still have to keep doing our job!
For me, this is one of the hardest parts of being a parent–the tension between expecting high standards from my children when I sometimes miss them myself–like that day of the shorts fight.
An hour later, as I sulked in the kitchen regretting my loss of temper, the same kid asked to go to a friend’s house, even though her homework wasn’t done.
As an imperfect person, I really didn’t feel like I had the moral authority to tell her she had to finish her homework first.
But would it make sense for a carpenter to think “Wow, I messed up that nail. I guess I can’t finish building the cabinet,” or for a guitar player on the stage of Madison Square Garden to hit a wrong chord and call it a night?
Of course not. The work must be finished and the show must go on.
In those moments where we feel unqualified as parents, we are still Dad or Mom, and we have a job to do.
Kid: “Can I play with my friend?”
Dad: (feeling like a jerk for modeling yelling and stomping): “Sure, as soon as your homework is done and is your room is clean.”
Kid: (sighs and goes upstairs to clean room.)
Parent In Control
So we have to do our parenting job, even if we do it imperfectly. And our most important values deserve to be passed along, even if we are poor vessels.
But if I’m going to have the audacity to tell somebody else what they should do, I’ll feel and be way more effective if I’m practicing what I preach!
For example, it feels a lot better to me to tell my kids to do their homework when I know that I am a deadline-hitting, get-my-work-done, blog-writing machine (I’m finishing this one a week early) than when I know I’m a lame slacker (which also happens).
And they can tell the difference, too. For example, I think the reason that my three kids give me zero push back on the family no-phones-in-bedroom rule is that I sleep with my phone in the bedroom…never!
That’s moral conviction, people–the steel wall of Dadliness. It feels great!
Uh–and not to take my kids off the hook for their own behavior–but maybe one reason they aren’t as good in other areas is that their fatherly example is sucky.
Hmmm, I wonder if I could actually do a better job of getting my kids to fight less by improving my own temper? Do you think that might help?
I just asked my 12-year-old, and she said “Yes, definitely.”
Room For Improvement
At NYC Guitar School, we subscribe to a business philosophy called “Lean”. This philosophy teaches that there is imperfection (aka “waste”) in everything we do–from our website, to how we hire and train teachers, to how we change guitar strings or send emails to our students.
Our job is to constantly eliminate this waste. In fact, each member of our leadership team reports on one or more weekly “1% improvements” to our processes and facilities.
But no matter how much we improve, we know we will never run out of improvements to make.
The same is true in our parenting and personal lives. In a way, making an obvious parenting mistake is a blessing, because it shakes us out of our complacency and allows us to see clearly, “Oh, there is room for improvement.”
But where to start?
Start with Parental Control!
Installing Parental Controls
A few weeks ago my 15 year old daughter walked into the kitchen. “Dad,” she said, “I feel like I’m not reading as much as I used to, because I’m on my phone too much. So I just deleted the games off my phone.”
I was so inspired! This wasn’t an example of Parental Control–this was an example of Child Self-Control.
I said, “You know what, I was just thinking the same thing myself. I used to always read on the way home, but lately I’ve been watching YouTube videos. Since you deleted your games, I’m going to delete YouTube.”
Then she said, “That’s a good idea. And since I have a lot of homework–can you keep my phone until tomorrow morning?”
We were in a virtuous cycle! And I didn’t want it to end!
As she exited the kitchen (sans phone). And I thought “Wait, I wonder if I could use Parental Controls for myself!”
In 20 minutes I had deleted YouTube and various other time wasting apps from my phone, and had set up Screen Time for myself with time limits, content limits and downtime. Then I asked my wife to make up a secret password.
And it’s been great! I’ve read multiple books, daydreamed, and have even experienced and survived boredom!
And even though I did it for my own pleasure and focus, it’s great for my family. My 15-year-old deserves lots of credit for my improved focus and reading, my wife is now my support team, and since my 12-year also has my Screen Time password, she LOVES when I ask her for 15 extra minutes on the NY Times website, just like she asks me for an extra 15 minutes of Instagram!
I don’t think that every parent should literally use Parental Controls on themselves. But I love taking ownership of that common phrase. Parental Control isn’t something that happens outside of us, in some piece of technology. Parental Control is what happens when we are parents who are living with intention and standards.
Let’s Start With Ourselves
Our beautiful kids are imperfect creatures. There is so much they don’t know and so much they aren’t good at. They make mistakes and can be annoying, leave dirty dishes in their room or even viciously fight over shorts.
They have lots of room for improvement and they always will.
Just like us.
And like us, they will be in charge of their own lives.
What if we focused more on perfecting ourselves than on perfecting our offspring, and what if focused less on controlling our kids and more on controlling ourselves?
My theory is that the more I do that, the more I’ll be equipped to expect and teach my kids to do the same for themselves.
On To Greatness, In Parenting, Music and Life,
Founder, NYC Guitar School
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