From Netflix to Depression Part III (Series Finale) –By Bart Theriot

Since we left off in Part II with The Untouchables, I think that’s as good a place as any to start. Hopefully what I’ve written so far has lifted the curtain a bit. You know the game, the players and what is at stake. So the question you need to ask yourself is…

Image of And then what are you prepared to do?

Are we gonna do this the Chicago way? Thankfully, no. In fact, everything I have written so far is designed to help us avoid an all or nothing fight between good and evil. Instead, if we do it right, maybe we never even have to set foot on the battle field. However, if you came to this post hoping to learn some fool-proof techniques to take home, you may be in for disappointment (don’t worry, we’re about to cover how to handle that). Besides, all of the technique in the world won’t matter if the foundation is not there. So in order to succeed in this effort, there is nothing more important than intentional parenting. Sometimes you’ll make the right decision. Other times you won’t, but an intentional parent will always recognize mistakes made and opportunities to learn. In the end, I promise that will make all the difference.

What is intentional parenting? It is acting with purpose. Not just one purpose, but many. Premeditate long term goals and hold true to them, but be flexible with the short term. Take time to be introspective about your role in both encouraging and inhibiting growth so that you can know when to adjust expectations and learn from mistakes.

Here are a few parenting purposes I’m going to discuss in this post:

  • Fix yourself first –break down your own relationship with technology and cell phone habits so that you can model appropriately for your child.
  • Resistance is the way — Focus upon skills that strengthen your child’s will and decision making .
  • Get used to disappointment — Instead of helping your child avoid disappointment, embrace and even find ways to create these experiences for your child.
  • Honesty is the best policy — The internet and cell phone world is vast. Challenges are inevitable. If your child is accustomed to lying to you, you may not know about his or her struggles until it is too late. Expect and cultivate honesty. Start now.

You probably saw this first piece of advice coming all the way back in Part I. It’s nothing you don’t already know. Before we can consider our child\’s relationship with technology, we must first understand our own. I did say that intentional parents are introspective in the previous paragraph. So really take some time to honestly analyze your own cell phone behaviors before you attempt to figure things out with your child.

Recognize that cell phones distract us even when they are visible but not in use. Even though you may think your sustained attention proves otherwise, research shows that “the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity.” If you don’t believe me take your phone out of your pocket in the middle of a conversation but don’t use it. Then notice what that does to your concentration and that of the person with whom you are speaking. At work, leave the phone in your bag for the morning. Later, while working, take it out and put it on your desk. Notice anything? Even if it’s a small change, the theory holds up.

The experience is even more impactful for your child. When he or she sees the phone everywhere, it is not just a distraction, it is an expected part of the environment. More important than furniture, but less important than the other humans in the house…For now. That expectation undercuts your ability to encourage resistance. Put your phone away (out of sight) as soon as you walk in your front door. Don\’t leave it on the kitchen counter, the coffee table, the couch or next to your bed. When not in use, store it out of sight. Limit your phone use to one room in the house and only when your child is not present. Where is your phone in the car? Out of sight, right? What about when you’re out taking a walk or watching TV, out at a restaurant? Don’t be that family where mom and dad are scrolling through their cell phones while the children at the table watch iPads with headphones. Modeling these simple practices in your own use builds a solid foundation for the challenges to come.

Remember we’re talking about resistance.  I know, you haven’t forgotten. Anyway, to me, (and Marcus Aurelius) that means truly understanding the opposite side of that which we intend to resist and focusing upon what we can control. Find what makes your child vulnerable to the influence and address that first. However, try to think foundationally. For example, clearly we cannot control the weather. But, if cold weather makes you uncomfortable, the solution is not to find comfort in low temperatures. Sure, you could focus on desensitizing yourself to this one condition, but with a child, we are starting from scratch. Don\’t think in terms of narrow conflicts. You are helping your child to build the adult he or she will one day become. Why stop at just cold weather when you could address all discomfort at the same time? The best solution, therefore, is to be comfortable with discomfort. In resisting technology, that\’s exactly what we are going to ask our children to do.  It can only be learned through experience.

A life dominated by technology and virtual experience allows children to form a relationship with comfort and enjoyment that fails to consider the flip side. This lack of experience, both online and in the real world, makes them vulnerable. They are not prepared for disappointment or discomfort. This may create a crippling duality when the search for pleasure simultaneously becomes an attempt to avoid pain, which we all know is impossible in life.

Another word for “resist” is “withstand.”  We must all learn to stand with, the pain. That is hard enough for adults. Why would any child choose discomfort? Most would not, unless doing so has been instilled as a part of their nature. So as contrary to your instincts as it may be, one of your roles as a parent is to intentionally expose your child to difficulty and discomfort. To allow struggle and, in its absence, to contrive it. But wait, I’ve got more good news. This is a universal skill. If you do this right, not only will you help your child resist the addictive forces of the internet, you’ll make him or a her a stronger person across the board.

Here’s a good real-world example, which I have seen play out many times over the years. It is the forgotten item. It could be a water bottle, a mitten, a book or a favorite stuffed animal, but the child forgot to bring it home from school. Although I can only speak to the instances in which the parent chose to return to school for the item, I believe a significant percentage of parents will make the same decision in similar situations.

I’ve spoken to parents on the phone sometimes as they call me to find out if the item is still actually at school. I can hear in their voices that the decision has already been made. Any disappointment shared by their child was probably unnecessary and more for insurance than anything else. This is where intentional parenting matters. These little moments. Because if letting your child feel and recover from disappointment is one step forward, helping them avoid it is more like two steps back. In this situation, if truly helping the child learn to accept and recover from disappointment is a goal, then the right choice is to let the child do without the item until tomorrow.

Held up against the big picture of future emotional and mental health, the above scenario sounds laughable. As a one-off incident, whether you go back for the teddy bear or not has no direct bearing on your child’s ability to resist what lies ahead. The example is even more trivial when compared to the experience of milliions of children world wide who cannot avoid difficulty and even the most basic needs are not being met. These situations and perspectives differ drastically, but the method for dealing with them is the same. In all cases your behaviors in this moment represent a good model for how you (and your child) will handle all of the other opportunities to reinforce these skills.

This practice can be very effective at young ages because children are so plainly obvious about their likes and dislikes as well as their wants and needs. Chances are you know exactly what disappoints your child most. Spoiler alert, it is also one of the top 5 things in life you try to avoid. You also know that children may not always understand their own motivations, but they almost never independently choose to do something they do not want to do. Phrased positively, young children do what they want. Therefore, naturally, the prospect of accepting an undesired task or situation results in disappointment. If you can’t get your child to clean up his own dishes, how will you expect him to willingly choose discomfort when it really matters?

If you’re picking up what I’m putting down so far, you’ve realized this is more about training yourself than your child. Every parent knows how quickly your child’s disappointment or discomfort becomes your own. So even though the long-term idea is for the child to develop resistance skills, in the short term, it’s your resistance that needs to be fortified.

Now, we should probably give a nod to the elephant in the room, which requires us to accept that cell phones and the internet are not passing fads. They are inevitable. Delaying the inevitable only benefits your child if you are going to use that time to prepare them. However, you must also give thought to expectations you will set when your child finally does enter into this world as an independent user. I believe a key concept on which we can focus at the earliest ages is honesty.

Much as been written about childhood honesty. The consensus is that lying is a normal, expected stage of development, but that it need not expand beyond a short, healthy period of experimentation. Your child’s little mistruths, such as taking snacks without asking and then choosing to deny the wrongdoing, may seem harmless. Hopefully they are and they will pass without much of a production, but it is your job as a parent to prevent things from going too far.

If you’re seeing a continuing or escalating pattern of dishonesty, go back to your intentional parenting and look at yourself first. A child will rarely resort to lying unless his or her environment has encouraged her to do so. You are the number one influence in your child\’s environment. You may have heard the idea that a person who cannot handle the truth should prepare to be lied to. If your child is lying, figure out how you are communicating to them that this is the best choice.

It probably goes without saying, but then that has not stopped me anywhere else in this post, but don’t lie in front of your child. You aren’t just the model of cell phone use. You are the model for everything. But when your child does choose to lie, never let it go unaddressed. Even exaggerations should be refined. When you intervene, always be precise with your words and tone. Catching your child in a lie may be uncomfortable for both of you, but that’s exactly how it should feel when you do things you shouldn’t. Lean into that feeling not as a punishment, but as a logical consequence. Then, when the child admits the truth, show them how much you appreciate the honesty and point out the difference between how they felt during the lie and how much better it felt to tell the truth.

Eventually, whether on a friend’s device or their own, your child is going to make mistakes. They may learn things they are not ready to learn and see things they cannot unsee. We all know the dangers of online predators and scam artists. We also understand cyberbullying and we have read about the slow, crippling creep of social media. If your child has a relationship of honesty with you, you just might have a chance to help them learn from the mistakes and even come out better on the other side. But if your child is used to lying, you may not have any idea what is going on until it is too late.

Seeking counsel from Gen Z, I asked my son, Aidan why he thought some of his peers are addicted to cell phones and others are not. He said it was like driving. “The vast majority of parents believe that their child being able to drive is necessary, so they teach them to be as safe as possible while doing it. Despite this, I know both very good and very bad drivers. The internet is the same, people who lack self control are going to have the same problems as people who don’t learn to drive properly.”

In other words, providing technical ability is only a part of the package. If the child lacks the underlying skills to make good decisions, especially when it means the choice between what they want to do and what they should do, he or she is more likely to experience difficulty. I like that my son used the word “self-control.” In his example, quite literally it is just as important to be able to control one’s self as it is to control the vehicle.

Now, let\’s move on and peek into the future a bit. You are practicing healthy cell phone habits (at least in front of your child). You’ve trained yourself not to intervene when there is an opportunity to let your child experience discomfort. You’ve also created situations where your child chooses to engage in undesired tasks. Your decision for how and when or if to introduce cell phone, internet and social media should be based heavily on how your child is handling these practices. You may never have more control over these things than you do right now.

Even if you’ve managed to delay your child’s exposure to cell phones and the rest, chances are high that your child’s friends have been introduced to the full range of movies, internet games and cell phone apps already. “But that\’s how we connect!” It is a phrase often heard from children hoping to justify online gaming or cell phone use. The worst part is that they may not be wrong. These words cut to our core. No parent wants to imagine their child without friends. Of all the bitter pills we parents have been handed by this problem, this one may be the most difficult to swallow. Essentially it means that no matter what measures you take in your own home, your child\’s relationship with technology may be heavily influenced by what goes on in the homes around you. In other words, from places beyond your control.

Because our control extends only so far, I don’t really subscribe to if-then equations when it comes to effective parenting. That’s why my focus is generally (not just for this post) upon what parents can control, starting with ourselves. You overcame the challenges you have faced in life because of the skills you carried with you, not because of narrow preparation for specific scenarios. To ensure your child finds success in their own challenges, simply follow that same logic.

Because of how my brain works, I cannot help but once again think of “The Matrix” and our good buddy Morpheus. One particular exchange comes to mind:

Neo: “You’re trying to tell me that I can dodge bullets?”

Morpheus: “No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”


Neo, reminds me of a new parent who looks at the child as the sum of many individual, isolated behaviors. Each challenge (whether sleeping through the night or eating vegetables) is a bullet to be dodged one-at-a-time. That’s pretty much how we all start out. Consequently, when we encounter a new difficulty with our child, our instinct is to figure out how to put out that little individual fire. We miss the forest for the trees. Sorry for the mixed metaphors. I just want to guarantee I make my point and a sci-fi film from 1999 (albeit a great one) just might not do it for everyone.

I recognize this may not be such an easy concept to accept. In fact, it takes the entire movie and all sorts of concrete experiences (literally, people punch and kick through concrete more than a few times) before Neo begins to believe. Like Neo, new parents are also going get knocked around a bit along the way.

I’m not finished with this. Not by a long shot. But I am done writing for now. The issue is so massive, I honestly had a difficult time culling my thoughts into these three posts. However, my plan was to create a jumping-off point to which readers may refer back as life evolves. Hopefully I accomplished that. Future posts will be much shorter and easier to digest. I may even convert a few to video or audio for the reluctant readers among us. To those of you still reading, thank you for staying with me through all 8700 words. I truly hope you found some measure of inspiration or at least one or two ideas which resonated.

Until we meet again, “Live long and prosper.”

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