I have a confession. I don’t mean the kind of confession you make with head hung and eyes averted with shame; quite the contrary, I am proud to admit this to you and the world:
I am a “mean mom.”
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. I’m really not mean mean — I don’t treat my kids badly or call them names or neglect their needs. In fact, my kids don’t even call me mean…it’s their friends that do. You see, I’m mean because of all the very normal, accepted, harmless things that I simply won’t allow my kids to do.
I have a 12-year-old daughter whose entire 6th grade class basically lives on TikTok, but she doesn’t have the app. I mean I do, so I can watch her friends (and occasionally catch her in her friends’ videos), but she can’t have that app — or any social media for that matter — because she doesn’t have a phone. Or an iPod. Or a tablet. Or any kind of personal communication device. And she likely won’t get one until high school. She texts her friends from my phone (while I follow along on my watch, as needed). She FaceTimes them on the desktop Mac stationed in our living room. Her door stays cracked when friends are over, and she has a very, very, very short list of friends with whom she is allowed to spend the night.
I have eight- and nine-year-old boys who love video games. All their friends are playing Fortnite, but not my boys. They get one hour of video games per day on the weekends only, and they can only play LEGO or sports games. If they fight, the game goes off for the rest of the weekend, so yep, sometimes that’s seven whole days or more without their favorite pastime. Their sleepover list is even shorter.
I have a four-year-old preschooler who is obsessed with Paw Patrol. I know he could be enthralled countless Paw Patrol videos — not to mention his other favorite characters, like Daniel Tiger, PJ Masks, Elmo, and more! — available for free online. He may uncover a deep passion for toy unboxing or kinetic sand videos, but my poor little baby doesn’t even know these things exist, because he’s not allowed to use YouTube; nope, not even the Kids version. YouTube in our house is only to be used on our smart TV in the living room, and only under direct parent supervision to ensure no auto play or random video scrolling takes place. The big kids love DudePerfect, and I have found some really excellent resources this year while I homeschool my 4th grader, but it hasn’t changed my rules about YouTube. It’s my way or the highway, kids.
My kids’ friends say I’m mean because I deprive my children of these modern childhood experiences, but my kids rarely say the same. (Well, they certainly call me mean when they’re angry, but not usually about this.) We have talked about this enough that they know I’m not simply trying to control them. I give my kids a lot of leash in other areas to help build confidence and character. However, things like social media, video games, and mindless internet searches can actually hurt kids.
I don’t say this to shame other parents who embrace these activities for their own families — to each his own! — but I’m not pulling these rules out of a hat either.
Studies have shown social media actually changes the adolescent’s still-growing brain, and while video games have recently been vindicated by a number of studies debunking the link between gaming and aggression, I don’t need a study to prove that too much screen time makes my kids ultra-cranky. Maybe that’s just my kids, so no shade if yours are different. This is just the decision we made for our family, and it works for us. In addition, lots of parents are becoming more aware of the disturbing content designed to slip past YouTube Kids’ filters, and honestly it’s just not a risk I am willing to take, so we keep it all very minimal.
On top of all that, my husband and I have spent the last 13 years working with teenagers, and I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at listening both to students and their parents. I listen to my friends who are in the motherhood trenches with me and those who have gone before with older kids. I listen to other parents and articles and news stories and more. Just like you, I’m trying to discern what is best for my family, and most of the time I really am not sure. When it comes to things like Fortnite and YouTube and cell phones, my restrictions are just about survival. These are the things I hear other parents complain about constantly; I hear students getting grounded from them constantly; I read cautionary tales over and over again. My kids are truly awesome, but they’re still kids, and I’m not out here looking for more reasons to fight with them. I don’t want to give them something only for it to become leverage when I need to ground them. When they are ready to use these platforms, we will do it together so they can learn how they work and how to be safe and responsible.
In the meantime, I like to think my kids are happier and have better relationships than if I hadn’t enforced these restrictions. All four of them still play together, build LEGO houses, shoot basketball, race around the downstairs (okay that’s one we fight about), and do chores. My daughter has had conflict with friends when they came over, and because of our open-door policy, she was able to come to me to brainstorm how she wanted to respond. These kiddos are sleepyheads, and even the 12-year-old still goes to bed at 8pm on school nights, sometimes even 7pm if they’ve been extra busy or extra crabby that day. They talk to me and my husband, and they understand why we are “mean” parents, even if they aren’t thrilled about it. They know we make these choices out of love and not anger or fear. As we gradually introduce these activities as my kids grow and are able to responsibly use them, I’m hoping they will appreciate the positive functions without being sucked into the negativity.
If your kid has a phone, has their own YouTube channel, or is being co-parented by the XBOX, that does not change the fact that you love your kid, and that makes you a great parent. But if you’re feeling all the guilt about being a “mean mom” like me, know that you’re not alone!