3 books to help navigate your teen’s digital life

A dad of two teenagers, Dwight Garner, wrote a column for The New York Times about his quest to reign in and understand his teens’ electronics use. He and his wife have struggled with realistic, enforceable limits for teens of the app generation. So here are the books he checked out and his conclusions.

From The New York Times:

“This year it occurred to me we needed help. So I sat down with three new books that offer assistance, understanding and quasi-epic subtitles. They are: “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age,” by Catherine Steiner-Adair with Teresa H. Barker; “The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul,” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang; and “The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World,” by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. (I read an advance copy of this last one; it won’t be published until October.)”

Garner says that ‘The Big Disconnect,” the author wants parents to look at their own behavior first. Are they on their phones all the time looking for the next email, text or tweet? The book argues that it seems to our kids everyone else matters before them.

The author of the column did like this speech in “The Big Disconnect,” but he’s not sure how much it will help. (I do think it’s a good speech.)

“This is not your computer — I know it has your name on it, but this is my computer (or your school’s computer). I’m your parent, and I reserve the right to see everything that’s going on there. You need to be on the computer in an open place. I have the right to know what your homework assignment is. You can’t be in your room with the door closed. You can’t take it to bed with you. You can’t collapse a screen when I walk by. We have a code of conduct and we expect you to stick with it: Don’t be mean, don’t lie, don’t embarrass other people, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, don’t go places you’re not allowed to go. Don’t post pictures that Grandma wouldn’t love. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of.”

For the second book “The Distraction Addiction,” Garner says the author doesn’t want kids to unplug entirely. He just wants for them to find a balance. (I think I would agree with this guy: moderation in all that you do.)

“His first seven chapters are titled: Breathe, Simplify, Meditate, Deprogram, Experiment, Refocus and Rest. In one of my favorite locutions of 2013, he suggests that it is possible to go about “tweeting mindfully.”

Garner doesn’t give much insight into the third book. I guess the summary would be that the authors see upsides and downsides to the “app-driven life.”

“The App Generation,” by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, is a slab of groaning sociology that nonetheless possesses an interesting insight. “Young people growing up in our time are not only immersed in apps,” the authors write, “they’ve come to think of the world as an ensemble of apps, to see their lives as a string of ordered apps, or perhaps, in many cases, a single, extended, cradle-to-grave app.”

My favorite part of the article is when Garner describes threatening his kids with “the Full Amish” — meaning no electronics at all. (No disrespect to the Amish – I just think it’s a very vivid image.)

I think the comments to the article were almost more interesting than the article itself. It’s real parents discussing the role electronics play and how you can integrate them without being controlled by them.

So what is your theory of how your kids should live with electronics? What are your rules? Do they change for school year VS summer? Would you read any of these books for guidance?

15 comments Add your comment


August 19th, 2013
5:28 am

We have never read a book about this and do not plan to. Our 2 teens each have a laptop and a smart phone. At 9 PM on school nights, smart phones are turned off and put in a basket on the counter. That includes phones for parents as well. Computers are turned off and stored at 10 PM or earlier if homework is finished. No one, parent or teen, is allowed to check phones during any meal time. If one or both teens are out in the evenings then phones are turned off and dropped in the basket on their return. Ours are turned off when they return. (FYI—we still have a landline in the house.) We allow more time on the weekends. There is no discussion and little flexibility. We simply are not letting technology control our lives. Since we made these rules a condition of the phone and computer purchases our teens accept the responsibility. Certainly they try to get around it, but the consequences are swift. No phone for a specific period of time and the computer used only for classwork and the usage is in the family room. No threats or warning, simply a punishment that they were warned about when they got the technology. In the two years since the phones entered their lives we have only taken a phone away from one twice and the other has not lost the privilege yet.


August 19th, 2013
6:42 am

One of the newer “Twilight Zone” episodes had an interesting take on technology in general. Probably my favorite episode out of all the ones Rod Serling didn’t introduce.


August 19th, 2013
6:50 am

I will never understand the need for a book to parent your kids. You paid for the phones, you are paying the bill, it’s your rules! If they don’t like it, then they can a job and pay their own I am the parent! I get to make the rules.


August 19th, 2013
7:36 am

But if I discipline, my kid won’t be my bestie! Then what???/


August 19th, 2013
7:57 am

Pathetic. Stupid kids are the products of stupid parents. Be a parent first, not a friend, If you need a book for that, you’ve already failed.


August 19th, 2013
8:01 am

Don’t plant to read the books.

I have to have all passwords. I will be checking to make sure they work. I will monitor the “traffic” in the electronics.

They have been “busted” for failure to follow the rules on occasion.

@ Mayhem, the book I read on Single Parenting (I forget who wrote it) was actually helpful. It was not so much on how to parent, as to do it all alone. I do however get what you are saying.


August 19th, 2013
8:21 am

“It’s my way or the higway.”
Until they choose the highway, and then you’re left wondering where you went wrong.

Clearly Mayhem you never had a child with a rebellious independent nature. If my parents had said, “Not under my roof!” They’d have gotten a swift “Eff your roof and the four walls holding it up.”

I left home as an 18 year-old and never returned as it was. Ultimatum’s would have just expedited that.

Authority without reasoning has never settled well with me. Still doesn’t.

Talk to you kids. Explain why you want to know what’s going on. Conversation goes a long way.


August 19th, 2013
8:26 am

You have to figure out a balance that works for you and your kids. We aren’t big TV watchers and our son was never into video games so we tended to allow more smartphone time.

My #1 recommendation though is not to stick your head in the sand and assume your kids are behaving themselves on social media. Get an account, be their “friend” or “follower”, ask your friends to as well (and don’t be mad if they tattle on junior), get their passwords, and generally be involved in what they’re doing. Too many parents say, “Oh I’m not getting on Twitter and neither are my kids.” Ya, well, I got news for you: yes they are and so are their friends. Don’t be afraid of technology because you don’t ‘get it’.


August 19th, 2013
8:57 am

Clear expectations and consquences. Social behavior is not the same as it used to be. I wish I could say PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY when I am in a restaurant and everyone is on their phone. My own two kids know: no electronics at the dinner table.

I will never understand the need for a book to parent your kids.

Would that more people would read up on perhaps one of the most important jobs they will every have!

Why do people read books…perhaps to learn things. I read this blog to learn things too! Every parent is a parent for the first time and how could you possibly know how to do something you have never done before? Every child is different. You may have ideas and they may work but NO ONE knows it all. I have read some parenting books that ( to me) were silly but some had great ideas. I appreciate others who might have ideas I do not know.

I read the AJC yesterday and there was a section on St.Augustine. We have been there a dozen times and love it. They mentioned a restaurant I had NO idea about. Glad I was open to reading.

As parent, we did lay the groundwork that we were paying the bills and thus got to make the rules. But ( having read this in a book and studied it in my education classes) there are 3 ( now 4 with hands off) types of parenting: authoritarian parenting does not typically have the best outcome: “The Authoritarian parent usually has a history of an unhappy childhood. This type of person may have been anxious and withdrawn as a child, and learned to have poor reactions to frustration. As an adult, this person reacts by showing that he can control something in his life: his child.”

My parents used this style…my way or the highway. When I took Child and other Psychology, I read a lot of books. This was before I was a parent and I learned a lot. I still read and research things. I also check in with people whom I respect and pick their brains about things I do not know.

Young Lady

August 19th, 2013
9:25 am

Jarvis- Yeah that was and still is me. I was always ‘the highway.’

For example: My parents refused to get a computer. I finally got tired of having to beg teachers to take a hand written paper when I couldn’t make it to the library to type it up on the computers there. (They wouldn’t let me drive until my senior year and I lived outside walking distance to a library) I got a job and paid for a computer and internet access.

My parents had a cow obviously because I circumvented their rules. They didn’t care about anything I was having to deal with but just that I had to follow the rules they set up. Needless to say we don’t have the best relationship given their attitude and their refusal to understand they can’t dictate my life as an adult.

Sk8ing Momma

August 19th, 2013
3:17 pm

So what is your theory of how your kids should live with electronics?
As with many things around here, electronics are acceptable in moderation.

What are your rules? Here are our basic rules:
- No plugging in until after all business (chores, homework etc.) is taken care of.
- Computers must be used in open spaces and no going on the Internet without express permission.
- No FB, Instagram or other social media sites to date. We’re open to the kids getting accounts eventually; but, they have to be earned and excellent time management skills must be demonstrated prior to getting them.
- All electronic devices (cell phones, Kindle, iPod etc.) are kept in a box on my dresser each night, i.e. no devices may be kept in kids’ rooms overnight. They have to be “checked in” by a certain time each night.
- No TV during the school week. My son needs to have his TV monitored on the weekends; hence, he gets 3 “tv tickets.” Each ticket is redeemable for 30 minutes of viewing.
- We have basic Internet safety rules (no giving out personal information, no chatting with strangers, don’t open mail from people you don’t know etc.).

Do they change for school year VS summer?
Yes, only that we do “No TV” every June — LOVE it! The rest of the rules stay the same.

Would you read any of these books for guidance?
Yes, all three sound interesting or at least as if they’re worth a read.

Sk8ing Momma

August 19th, 2013
3:20 pm

One more BIG rule: I must know EVERY password — no exception. If I try to open a device/account and the password is changed, consider the device mine/the account gone.

Sk8ing Momma

August 19th, 2013
3:25 pm

Another rule….When my kids’ company is over or riding in the car with us, NO PLUGGING IN! That is a pet peeve of mine. Face-to-face interaction is encouraged. Why bother having company if each person is going to be plugged in on his/her own device???


August 19th, 2013
4:17 pm

@Sk8ing….love this: Why bother having company if each person is going to be plugged in on his/her own device???

I often wonder why people sit in restaurants and everyone is glued to their own phone!


August 19th, 2013
6:38 pm

…what kind of books do you not want planted?LOL