I just got back from chaperoning a trip to a basketball tournament. Four adults, twenty-two tweens. Emotions, hormones, and sweat glands were running high. Deodorant was running low. For many of these kids, it was the longest they’d been without their parents, their first foray into independence.
Add to all of that nerves and the pressure so many of these kids put on themselves to ‘win’ and the stage was game, set, and matched for tears and tantrums.
In short, it was recipe for disaster.
And yet it wasn’t.
Oh, there were a few moist eyes…including my own as I watched another team play their hearts out and lose by one basket. But after any loss the kids would shed a few tears, change out of their sweaty uniforms, grab a can of Pringles and watch another game.
Of course they were frustrated and disappointed, but for the most part, they were gracious in their defeat.
Some of the adults around them…not so much. (Note: If you are a parent of a child playing sports, I highly recommend watching this video about all you really need to say to your sports-loving kids)
Those twenty-two tweens are just kids. They’re kids in overgrown or overgrowing bodies, some fumbling around on legs so long and thin they looked like wobbly baby giraffes or like St. Bernard puppies getting used to the size of their paws. In essence, they’re really no different from the kids we were. Nothing much has changed.
But in order to see the similarities you’ve got to get them looking up and interacting with the world rather than down at what’s in their hands.
And so we took their phones.
We collected their phones because expecting a tween or teen to self-monitor their phone usage is akin to repeatedly hitting your head against a brick wall and expecting not to get a headache. Physically collecting them (and doling them out at sanctioned times) was a necessity for a thousand reasons (loss, theft, distraction, staying up all night on Instagram), all of which outweighed the benefits they would get by carrying them at all times.
Contrary to the hell-scape that separating a tween from her/his phone sounds like it would be, in reality, it was easier than you’d think.
Oh sure, the first night there was a collective groan and some good-natured whining. But with minimal fuss, they all handed them over.
And then something amazing happened…
They talked to one another! They watched each other’s games and the games of the other schools! They screamed themselves hoarse cheering and yelling and stomping their feet. They socialized with their competition and wished them luck. They met new friends.
At a Chinese buffet the played a round of old-fashioned ‘telephone’. Yes, they were loud, but in a joyful, tween-age way. They fiddled with Rubik’s cubes and one made origami swans. They played Uno, the girls braided each other’s hair and put on face masks. They ran around the hotel playing ding, dong, ditch–or whatever the knocking equivalent is called. They ate together and they talked. They sang one of those ridiculous bus songs that I will now never get out of my head.
In short, they acted like kids.
By the end of the four-day trip they’d mixed up their groups, talking and sitting with different people than they had been at the beginning.
And not one of them asked for a phone.
When you take away the very grown up technology we keep shoving down their throats at every given opportunity, it doesn’t take them long to revert back to what they are–awkward and goofy, still in need of a hug and encouragement, a little wobbly, a little slobbery–kids.
When you take away the reason for looking down, they look up and see the world.
Call me sanctimonious. Call me a Luddite or a technophobe or even a grumpy old woman, but I’m sure they got a lot more out of this trip than if they’d been plugged into their phones the entire time.
Oh sure, they would have been quieter. I wouldn’t have had to do as many head counts because they’d all be sitting like iDucks in a row. But I’d rather remind them a hundred times to keep it down and watch them laugh and cheer than to stare at the tops of their quiet heads.
Everything they learned on this trip–all of the things you want your child to learn on a trip like this–they learned through socializing, not on media, but in person. Because they were looking up at the world around them and not down at the virtual one in their hands.
What if our kids just want to be kids?
What if they’re waiting for us to help them do just that?
And, more importantly, what if we’re not?