While fatherhood has always been demanding, today’s dads are seldom required to wrestle hungry tigers to ensure their children's safety. Still, modern parenting presents its own challenges cro-magnon man never dreamed of. Cell phones, tablets, and the trappings of technology all pose problems uncontemplated by dads of yesteryear. So here are ten commandments for the digital age based on real dad-debacles.
1. Thou shalt not allow thy child to read YouTube comments
Everyone knows the world is a horrible place. Everyone except young children. And they don’t have to. Not yet. That’s why shielding your child from YouTube comments at an early age is so essential, because as everyone possessing the gift of literacy knows, nothing holy lives there. There are comment-blocking browser extensions like Shut Up and Hide YouTube Comments. YouTube offers a kids’ version of their app as well.
"If you’re going to ignore your children, it should be because you’re shoving your face with their tater tots."
2. Thou shalt not allow smart phones at the kitchen table
It’s an increasingly busy world, and while conflicting schedules and work obligations make it harder to sit together as family, when those opportunities arise, the “no phone” policy at the kitchen table is particularly helpful. It’s just easier to form real connections with children when they’re not texting their friends about some show you got too old to watch twenty years ago. If you’re going to ignore your children, it should be because you’re shoving your face with their tater tots.
Designate an area or container where everybody has to deposit their devices -- including you, Pops -- and nobody’s allowed to touch it until the last dish is dry. Your kids will grumble, but when they grow up, they’ll be glad they learned to cope without a phone for an hour.
3. Thou shalt not buy thy child a new smartphone with each upgrade
Everyone knows that smart phones go out of date quicker than prom theme songs. That’s why your kids won’t be dancing to "Don’t You Forget About Me," and why they will be asking you for a new phone with each upgrade. They may be omnipresent, but they're not cheap, and no dad recommends trying to keep up with built-in obsolescence. Your child should still love you even under an older operating system. They won’t, though, so tie their upgrades to some kind of development or performance-based goals. Your goal here is to show that, while new gadgets are neither feasible nor desirable, their hard work pays off so that they stay concurrent with the new capabilities. (No child should be denied a phone with an Old Age filter. Tiny old people are the funniest people.)
4. Thy children shalt answer all cell phone calls from you
One nice thing about technology is being able to reach your kids at a moment’s notice. Unless, of course, they don’t answer the phone. That’s not really an option. Receiving phone calls from you, even stupid ones, is the price of admission for your kids having what amounts to a supercomputer when you were a child, in the palm of their hands. Be clear with your kids that their phones are a privilege, not a right, and if they’re not going to use them for their primary purpose (keeping the family in sync), you can take back what you pay for.
...don’t be a jerk about it, though. If the kid didn’t answer because they were running around playing instead of staring at a screen, that’s the desirable state of things.
"There is something to be said about being exposed to songs beyond your control."
5. Thou shalt force thy child to listen to an entire album
Technology is a wonderful thing. Spotify and iTunes can open kids up to all sorts of music, granting easy access. Your child has choice and control and that’s great. But with the itemization of music, the album has largely fallen to the single. There is something to be said about being exposed to songs beyond your control -- about learning an entire work, not chopped up in pieces. Consider it a life lesson. Not everything that will come to your child in life can be yes/no-ed a track at a time. That’s why it might be a good idea to force your child to listen to a full recording -- any recording -- on your next roadtrip.
Parenting isn’t easy, so Jim Gaffigan does as little of it as possible. The new season of The Jim Gaffigan Show shows you how to eat, nap and occasionally raise children.
6. Thou shalt apply a content blocker
When you were a kid in the old days, you had to stage a small burglary from the back of your dad’s garage to score a magazine that no stand would sell you, but now visuals no kid (and few adults!) are mentally prepared to see are just a click away. Your choices for keeping your tween-age son or daughter from growing up too fast are to basically throw on a few site blockers, or deliberately break into their room every 7.8 seconds. The second option is far more time-consuming and far more likely to lead to horrific embarrassments no one wants.
7. Thy children shalt respect thy video on demand profile and keep it holy
This one’s for you, Dad. You may feel free to insist that while using a VOD service, your kids not watch their crap on your account. You work hard and help pay the bills, so there’s no reason the next time you sign into a subscription site, you should have to see “Since you watched The Ridiculous Six… ” Let’s face it -- kids have awful taste and should never be allowed to pick any entertainment. Create distinct profiles for your dumb wiener kids on Netflix, Amazon, and everywhere else so your recommendations aren’t arrested by Paw Patrol.
8. Thou shalt be aware of in-app purchases
Be aware. You might be using your tablet as a babysitter, entertaining your little one, but it turns out that even free games, have something called “in-app purchases.” Built into many “free” games are options for your child to buy more “coins,” or “stars,” or “candy-flavored moonbeams.” Whatever it is, they cost money and if the tablet is tied to your credit card, purchases can be a tap away. Hey, it even happened to Kanye. Do you think you’re immune?
Fortunately, there’s a walkthrough to prevent this, so your kids will need to ask your permission before planting a stupid digital farm. Bonus: that means they have to talk to you! Trade them one boring story from your childhood about learning an important life lesson for each virtual purchase.
9. Thy children shalt not own hoverboards
Come on. Yes, we know your Timmy down the street has one, but that’s a lot of money for something that is in no way actually a hoverboard. Just because you take the handlebars off a Segway doesn’t mean you can trick the populace into believing the thing suddenly floats. Also, reportedly, hoverboards are liable to burst into flames so, y’know, there’s that.
They’ll probably protest, so to explain why they can’t have a hoverboard, sit down with them for some hearty laughs at hoverboard fail compilations. Tip: this one’s sideways, and therefore the best:
Your kids won’t be swayed, but they will forget they want one for a little while.
"It’s one of the rare times your kid has a right to be embarrassed by her parents."
10. Thou shalt not comment on thy child’s social media
Social Media can be tricky for parents. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter... these things are not quite like diaries, where your kids might express their most private thoughts, but your child’s self-expression on social media is meant for a different target audience than you. Your daughter’s buddies don’t need to see your “Lookin great honey :) so proud of u” comment under her bathroom selfie. It’s one of the rare times your kid has a right to be embarrassed by her parents. Besides, you’re more than a buddy so if you have something you want to tell your child, walk into their room and do it directly.
Don’t forget, you might know a lot that your kids don’t but the reverse is true as well: your kids are savvy in a whole list of engagement rules for social media and technology in the real world that nobody cares to teach you. So respect their space and their knowledge... maybe they’ll teach you something even as they’re learning from you.