parent opinion

"I've almost stopped telling the kids to get off their phones - and no one is more surprised than me."

Optus
Thanks to our brand partner, Optus

Optus has sponsored a series with Mamamia exploring different families’ relationships with technology. Andrew Daddo shares his with us.

It’s true.

I’ve just about given up with the “Get off your phone, Bro”. And the “Really, are you on that thing again?” I have partly because I can see it’s a losing battle, which is not a reflection of my children; that they are rotten and won’t listen to their darling father. They’re not, and they do listen – sometimes.

But I haven’t given away the “Get off your phone” game altogether. You have to understand I’m bogged in another time – call it the ‘Yesterday is Hero Complex’, but I tend to lean on the olden days like some crutch of happiness.

They were great, you know. This is ages ago – I’m talking pre-BMX.

Back when dragsters ruled and racing bikes were for weirdos. When magpies would peck the lids of our home delivered milk bottles to steal the cream. There was a time before seat belts and turbos and fuel injection. Footy jumpers were made of wool (which sucked), umpires wore white and were called white maggots. Cricketers didn’t wear numbers or have their names on their backs.

There were no giant screens at the footy!

There was even a band called Kiss! Think your Dad in a terry towelling hat – or a square hanky with knots tied in the corners on your grandpa’s head.

In a warped, almost embarrassing way, that’s where I’m spiritually moored, and I do recall it being quite good fun.

I may also incorrectly recall that in those days, every spare moment was spent in search of adventure. And my fear has always been that if you are head down in your phone in your spare moments, it’s pretty hard to find something new.

The issue, as I’m reminded often, is I’m seeing things entirely the wrong way. That search for adventure and something new, is alive and well. It’s being sought out and discovered, it’s just the method has changed. A smartphone, as everyone knows, is literally the key to Pandora’s Box where a world of worlds exists for the discovery and the taking.

I get it, but that doesn’t always stop me boring my kids with, ‘put down your phone.’ I’ve talked to my parents, and they reckon they would have said, “Turn off the TV!” about a million times. But then, there was every chance they’d boot us off the couch and watch Countdown as well.

How good is parenting? How good is muddling through?

How good is figuring out why the heck they’re so into their phones in the first place? They’re not exactly going anywhere, so I’d be better off batting for Team Acceptance than Team Denial because denial rarely wins. As my Pappy used to say, if you’re going to get on board, you might as well understand what’s going on.

So here’s what’s happening.

Over the past couple of years, we’d had no interest in giving our teenagers a complex about their phone use – they’ve got enough to worry about so to force them into the shadows or other rooms so they can use their phones is a very bad idea, that’s pretty obvious.

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We recognise that phones are the gateway to lots of things, not the least of which is popular culture. Just as the radio or TV was my window to the world (The Brady Bunch, Alvin Purple, News) the mobile is literally a streaming device for what’s got the world talking.







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Merry merry

A post shared by  Andrew Daddo (@andrewdaddo) on


But it’s not coming in weekly instalments, it’s arriving and changing and mutating by the second. Please don’t panic, it doesn’t all happen overnight.

With any luck, your kids will be drip fed into their mobile usage. A little here, a little there. They push, you pull. You push, they pull. Time on the phone here versus no time on the phone there. That’s how it seems to have worked at our place.

Isn’t it funny how strict you are with the first child, and by the time number three is hand out, foot tapping ready for her phone, it’s all a bit more relaxed. Maybe it’s because we were more relaxed as well.

We’d seen with two older kids that the world did not end, that the kids were able to function without entirely disappearing into the ether. Thankfully, dinner time remains a device-free homeland for discussions about the day and life and what’s exciting or not.

Phones do not have to be all consuming – and it’s taken a while to see this genuine fear of mine has not been fully realised.

Obviously, this won’t necessarily be the case for all families. The Australian Government guidelines recommend that children and young people, aged five to 17, need to limit their sedentary recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day. If the kids don’t have enough to get excited about beyond their phones, this can become a real challenge.

There are apps, websites, videos and columns with advice and tips and guidance. As times have sped up, telcos like Optus have recognised the reality that tweens and teens have phones, so it’s better to empower parents to know how to manage that rather than be in the dark. They’re offering a Family Plan that includes four SIMs on one plan with 250GB shared data, but to help make sure kids aren’t recklessly using that all up, they’ve included a subscription to the McAfee® Safe Family app and access to cyber education resources covering everything from cyberbullying to safe TikTok use.

It’s amazing how the times have changed, and so quickly.

In the rose-coloured glasses days, if you were bullied you either ‘took it like a man’ or you stood up for yourself and won the girl. (Really? Or is that just in movies?)

But the reality is, cyberbullying is so nuanced and you can’t have just one kneejerk response to it. It’s good to know help is available for parents, kids and even bullies. It’s a chance to work through and understand how to deal with this life that’s coming at us at a million miles an hour. For whilst most of it’s fun and pretty harmless, more than ever, we need to have our wits about us.

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Yes, there are dangers out there. But, to my surprise, there’s a lot of adventure too.

Who knew TikTok would be such fun? How amazing that our kids can make, edit and send a movie to their grandparents? That they can record your songs or poetry (never, but they could) or a morning sunrise and share them with just about everyone.

With hindsight, I can see that the inevitable progression from childhood to adulthood really must include a phone, for our peace of mind as parents as much as a kids’ chance to explore the wider world.

Do the kids know how to get anywhere without using Google Maps? I seriously doubt it. Does it matter? (To me, yes) In reality, no.

Have I used the torch on my phone to signal it’s time for my surfing son to come in? Yes. Did it work? Of course not. He thought it was a firefly.

Progress is upon us, no question. And while I’m doing my best to progress past “put your phone down”, I can see I’ve managed to progress to acceptance as well.

Phew, that feels better.

(For the record, as a younger man I was an early adopter – shelling out for a Sony CMD Z1. How did I remember the model? I didn’t. I used my phone to Google old Sony phones…)

Let’s talk about kids and phones. What works in your household? What do you say instead of “put down your phone”? Let’s muddle through it together, below.

Feature image: Supplied.

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