‘Managing’ tech and a growing family

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David Flatman Unaffiliated authors, UK

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David and Freya Flatman have four daughters – 14, 11 and 2 years old and a 6-month-old baby – and live in the UK. Their older two daughters are from David’s first marriage and the younger two are from his marriage to Freya. For part of the week, the two older girls live with David and Freya and their younger sisters. In the interview, David reflects on how his older daughters use tech, with contributions from Freya and prompted by questions from the interviewer.

Abstract

David and Freya Flatman have four daughters – 14, 11 and 2 years old and a 6-month-old baby – and live in the UK. Their older two daughters are from David’s first marriage and the younger two are from his marriage to Freya. For part of the week, the two older girls live with David and Freya and their younger sisters. In the interview, David reflects on how his older daughters use tech, with contributions from Freya and prompted by questions from the interviewer.

David:We have four daughters aged from 14 years to 6 months.
Interviewer:And what types of tech do they have?
David:The 14- and 11-year-olds both have a phone, iPad and laptop. And they share family televisions. Are we including televisions in tech?
Interviewer:We can, I mean, they are a form of technology.
David:And the 2-year-old has, let’s face it, she has an iPad. And I think Gigi, six months, has nothing. We’re not that bad!
Interviewer:And at what age did your older daughters get a phone?
David:Both of them at age 11.
Interviewer:What was it about being 11?
David:The honest answer is that they started senior school. And the reason given was safety while walking to school. Actually, that’s very little to do with it. It was about not being the other kid, as in the kid who doesn’t have one. I think it’s almost ubiquitous at 11 that if you’re going to secondary school everyone’s got … yeah, maybe not phones … but it was definitely my ex, their mother being very keen to get them something they were excited about. Which actually … it’s fine. We all have different things that we’re excited to get our kids that they want. But hers was tech whereas mine wasn’t. They had been asking for phones for probably two years before that. I mean, they had phones. They just had hand-me-down phones. The one that had SIM cards and no wifi, but they weren’t using them in any kind of significant capacity. But they were asking for their own phones for probably two years before that. But they were told they could have one when they were 11. And they got iPads before the phones. They got iPads when they were 10. Laptops when they were probably 9 or 10. Nine, I would say. Then iPads, then phones.
Interviewer:And did you have any reservations about any of those different pieces of equipment?
David:Yes, I didn’t want them to have any of them at all. I said no to all of them.
Interviewer:What were your reasons for saying no?
David:I thought they would be happier without them. I thought that the reaction to not having them when other people had them would subside quickly enough, that they could actually enjoy free time more without one. Because I know that I’m a bit hooked to mine as well. And they don’t make you … they make you less happy, I think. Also, there’s exposure to social media so people can get in contact with them for unsavoury reasons. And it happened to my 14-year-old, she was contacted by a man she didn’t know online. But also, there’s just the stuff they see. So, no matter what filters you’ve got in place, the content you see on TikTok is sexual violence, it’s awful language … and reading it as well, so much is misleading. So, I still have reservations to this day.But the 14-year-old doesn’t have TikTok anymore, which is a one step forward. But I thought it would be a problem [having an iPhone] because everyone says, who knows anything about it, says that it will be a problem. And they were right. And it was and it probably is. My main, point apart from anything else, is it just sucks them out of the room so they’re not with us anymore [when on their phones]. You know, you almost … when I take the phones away, it’s almost like getting your kids back, even if they’re bored and grumpy and hormonal. And oppositional. At least they are there being kids, whereas they just disappear.
Interviewer:And so, do you have times in the day when you control the times that they’re allowed to have the phones?
David:All of their school homework is accessed online. So, on tech-free days [which we have introduced], I find it crazy. On tech-free days. They have, they need their tech to access their homework, to submit it or see what it is or whatever. So, when I had the older children on Tuesday, I mean, I’m a bit more relaxed than I was a year ago or six months ago probably. But I do take it away in the evenings and we do something. We very occasionally play games, but what we more often do is watch a TV show together, which I really value, because even though even if the TV show is crap, it’s just something we are doing together.But invariably they need to look at their tech on their tech-free days and their mum has tech-free Thursday. So, two days a week where they don’t have their phones to sit and disappear into. They can take them to school in case they need to contact us for pick-up and because the pick-up routines at their school are really difficult. It’s a difficult school to pick your kid up from. And I don’t let them have the phones in their bedrooms ever and they don’t. They’re not allowed the phones overnight.
Interviewer:And is that a fairly recent introduction?
David:No, they’ve never been allowed their phones in their rooms since we moved to this house two and a half years ago … One night when the oldest daughter [14 years] snuck her phone in, there was a sleepover that she wasn’t invited to and they were messaging her horrible things about not being invited. And she said horrible things back. And she’s a little kid with an escalating social disaster, catastrophe, dealing with it on her own. And she’s not equipped to deal with it. I mean, lots of adults aren’t equipped I’m pretty sure of that.
Freya:So, yeah, that’s the main thing … to keep them [phones] downstairs with us. It’s also about a kind of sleep hygiene.
David:Yeah. And I have to say I have to break myself away from my phone at night a lot of the time. So, I know where she gets it from. But I don’t think it’s just me and her. I think it’s a pretty common, part of the human condition.
Interviewer:And do you have parental controls on any of the tech?
David:Yes. Parental controls on any app my older daughter wants have to be approved by me. I’ve got filters on Snapchat and Instagram, but as far as I’m aware, they are wholly inadequate. They don’t work … because I’ve read all the print online, I’ve done little tutorials and I’ve got all the filters I can on, all the protection I can on. And I still overhear things sometimes which are completely inappropriate, to be honest … you would be aghast. And they are in that same room aged 14 and ‘Oh my God!’ No matter what filters she has put on, it doesn’t work for that.
Freya:I’ve been with him when he’s tried to put on time limits as well.
David:Yeah. But for someone who is relatively tech-literate, it’s seemingly impossible to actually enforce. I think there’s an app you can buy that as a parent supersedes parental controls and you could basically shut down your kid’s phone. Yeah. We never got that far.But another issue we have, which may be relevant here is that because I’m divorced from their mum [we share custody], I’m not with them all the time. So, if their phone is shut down, taken away, I can’t contact my kids. And one of the great joys of them having phones is that they send me things they think are funny or loving, or we send pictures of their baby sisters and, you know, they’re on holiday with their mum and they’re sending us pictures, and I’m thrilled to receive all of them. So yeah, there’s a definite positive to them having mobile content. It hasn’t got to be sort of physical connection, that it could be a text or a photo being sent or something like that, that that keeps contact. I mean, it’s actually hilarious often how brief and thoughtless they are! You can send a message something like ‘You’re just the most beautiful little girl. I’m so proud of you. Your results are amazing. Amazing person.’ She’ll send a text reply: ‘Thanks’. Thumbs up or nothing!But yes, there are pros and cons, but given the choice, I love the idea of the girls having a phone where they can only call and text, and that’s it. And we can be in contact and they can ring people and text people, phone iMessage, nothing else. Because if they want to be flirty and or send funny, inappropriate stuff with their friends or people they fancy at some point or whatever, you can do all that on iMessage anyway. But they want to be part of this social media world that makes you feel ‘other’ if you’re not part of it.And I think another thing that I just wish would happen, and maybe it will by the time the younger two [aged 2 years and aged 6 months] are at school, is that schools really outlaw phones because phones have kind of gradually woven their way into the school, even though you’re still not meant to have them in class. But the school don’t police that at all. Yeah. So tedious in that I have to say I think they basically just think that they can’t police it. They’ve got a thousand kids and have got whatever, just under a thousand kids and there’ll be 700 with phones.
Interviewer:Thinking back to your own adolescence, how different do you think your adolescence was compared to your two older daughters?
Freya:So, I had a mobile phone when I was a teenager. An iPhone had almost no bearing on my adolescence because it was so early in tech, my phone was meant to send text messages [but] I never had enough credit. So, I couldn’t store text messages … I used to write down the good ones in a little book! So, I mean, it was kind of I mean, I wouldn’t have taken my phone to school. Yeah. It was at university when phones became kind of a thing. I didn’t have a mobile phone till I was 16 [in 2002].
David:I think … what does tech rob you of? I mean, it’s not like all I did was, you know, run around and climb trees and play cricket in the sun. And I was bored like other kids. I had boring days in a row, you know, days where no one was around. I didn’t read books. I wish I had. I watched too much telly. I got in the way of my parents during holidays. I did no homework … I think boredom is the thing that’s missing. I remember being bored as a kid sometimes. Yeah, but yeah, but they … it’s now just refusing to be bored because they don’t have to be bored. They don’t. They don’t have to be socially resourceful, but when they’re on their own or they’ve got nothing specific to do because they’ve got a device which gives them purpose in the form of it works because it makes them feel good, because it gives them little hits of dopamine every many seconds, and I think it genuinely works for their brains. I mean, these things work. They make them feel good … Yeah. Yeah, it’s I mean, it’s just a really interesting point about almost never, you know, if you don’t want to be, you never have to be alone. Now you’re not alone and you don’t ever have to get your thoughts in order about anything. How you think about the world is kind of given to you now by people you really admire who might be giving you, might be giving you false information, might not actually be that worthy of your admiration, but also are such distant role models that they’ll never be real and they’ll never be there to be accountable if things aren’t right.
Interviewer:If someone was asking you for advice about managing tech and particularly thinking of phones with teenage children. I mean, what advice would you give?
Freya:I think the under-16 campaign,1 where they can only have these really basic phones and do it through laws because it’s impossible to isolate your child from their peer group by making them live by some kind of draconian rules that they’re never going to stick to. So, I think we would love it if that decision was taken out of our hands, basically, because it’s the law.
David:So, yeah, I think my you know, if someone asked me, which people do, friends do. If you really don’t want your children to have a smartphone with all the apps, be strong. Be strong enough to make your kid an individual. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have any tech at all. It probably, it probably somehow isn’t a great idea to have no tech because the child will actually be isolated and in a way, it might be left behind. And you have to be reasonably tech-savvy. I’m useless, but I can operate my laptop on my phone just fine. But my advice would be to be strong enough without isolating your kids. But not having social media apps doesn’t isolate them. That is a myth. As long as they can contact friends with a phone and text, they are not isolated. They might not be part of every thread, but no one is in every conversation. They might not be invited to everything, but no one is.I also think I would manage how much time they spend on it. They wouldn’t take any technology to school at all. That would be my advice. And I would really manage it. So that a couple of days a week they had no access to it at all and they never had access to it before school. Up to a certain age, a reasonable age, 15 or 16, they’d never have access to it before school. And on the nights when they were allowed at weekends, it’d be more relaxed, but on the nights they were allowed it, they could have an hour if they want, or they can have half an hour once they’ve done their dinner and homework, then they can go and have half an hour.And it’s, I think it’s funny how some of the things that, historically I mean, in recent times have been viewed as kind of a scourge on society – computer games and watching TV – now are wholesome activities! So, it’s up to us. And the truth is we can’t quite manage.
Interviewer:Yeah. And is that heightened for you, do you think, because it’s across two households?
David:Yeah. You can’t, I think you just cannot ever be quite on the same page. Yeah. You can’t. And people say you’ve got to be on the same page, you’ve got it. But you can’t be because if you were that aligned you wouldn’t have got divorced. … I mean, so at some level, tech does allow two households to run, you know, there is some messaging across households in terms of sharing custody, basically, or sharing the children’s lives and enabling this in some ways over tech for the adults, is really handy. So, it enables that perfectly. Yeah.

Funding

The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

David Flatman Unaffiliated authors, UK

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Freya Flatman Unaffiliated authors, UK

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