“You gave away his Xbox?” With a look of terror, my 11-year-old son’s friend was desperately hoping this news was not true. “Yes, I did, and if he was given another one, I’d give that away too.” Since my son was born, I have been living in fear of the impending threat of digital games, phones, pads, pods, chats, tweets, tubes and teeth. This hilariously serious conversation came flooding into my mind when I heard the most recent case of Tech Addiction – (my new name for child addicts dying on the digital streets) – the murder of an entire family by 16-year-old Jason Hendrix of Corbin, Kentucky.
Like the fostering of any new addiction, it always begins with the ready supply of the substance to the potential user and the easy access to the substance dealer. To lock in and broaden the potential reach and success of the substance, it must receive complicit or explicit societal support, such as the coming of age alcohol-induced parties and celebrations practiced across Mama Earth by so many of us colonized peoples, normalizing the man’s poison, aka alcohol, for all of our young people.
For the first two years of my son’s life, my family was in deep poverty and struggle. Me, juggling the extensive care for my mama, who was very sick, as well as the always hard care of my then infant child. I was unable to work and therefore unable to afford child care and rent – much less food and diapers. It was at this time in the middle of so much struggle that I launched Mamahouse – a collective home for poor single mamas like myself – so we could support each other with child care and shared resources and support, the one thing so many of us single parents lack. It got me out of homelessness and was beautiful in all the ways of interdependence, sharing and collective work that it should have been, except for one thing. I was now in the position of saying no to my 2-year-old son, who was already being offered a video game to play, a computer to play on, and a phone to “use.”
I said no many times, even in the face of so many introductions to the digital streets. “You will be forced to come around someday,” my co-madres all warned me, shaking their heads. “Just wait and see.”
Now, don’t get it twisted. I am not a hippie mama with back to nature privilege and no phones, TVs or computers in the house. I am a concrete jungle survivor who barely made it out of a life of poverty and houselessness. I was raised by a poor single Afro-Puerta Rican mama who had followed the Bernie Mac school of child raising and was still slapping me upside the head til the day she transitioned if I “did something wrong.” But I knew the terrifying way Facebook had so easily become “face-crak” to my already-formed brain, and therefore knew in my deepest heart that these digital streets were no place for a child, much less a young person’s un-hardened skull open to all the force a satellite transmission ever needs.
From the video game themes, ranging from fetishized gendered characters like movie star planet that helps young girls and boys be rich and famous so they can spend thousands of “fake” dollars buying inappropriate clothes and things, to Grand Theft Auto, that promotes young men and women hurting, stealing, killing or cheating each other in some criminalized image of “pseudo-gangster” (read cool Black, Brown and working-class youth) all created/designed by 20-something mostly white, middle-class tech designers who were raised in the suburbs of Amerikkka. Or military-industrial complex video sponsored killing games like Halo, Dark Souls or Dead Rising, where you can be the shooters, snipers, killers or zombie killers in the omnipresent zombie apocalypse we all have been waiting for.
And then the endless chatting, texting, tweeting, role-playing and tagging. Between all this simulated life who has time for real life? especially real, boring, hard-working, not-really-that-exciting life.
And although I think it is actually urgent for us to completely move off the killer digital streets, or at least severely limit our use, if for nothing else to stop the never ending hunger for more and more of Mama Earth’s finite energy, the reality is that the internet is a powerful research tool and there are thousands of great math, science, art, media and music sites that can be used for learning and teaching, talking and communicating.
And yes, as a poor single mama, I have needed a “break” raising my energetic son multiple times, just like the next in-struggle mama. When we were in our deepest financial stress, I went through elaborate schemes to prop my son up in front of a cartoon show that I thought was age-appropriate so I could get some work done, help my mama, or just rest. I can’t always be there to entertain this goofy child who is endlessly wanting my attention. But books and art and drawing and sports are real too. And so I would limit the TV and cartoons and the movies to a minimum of one night a week. And I begged, borrowed and stole for endless paper and art supplies and went to the library a lot.
And no matter how tired or depressed I was, I would read to him and tell him bedtime stories when I didn’t have to work at night. And most importantly, I began teaching him very early on that if he ever wanted to play a “video” game he would have to learn to make one. I taught him the little I knew about the “code source” – the root, back-end of every website and video game and digital application from Twitter to Face-crak. And perhaps most important of all, I taught him to be conscious. I explained to him in detail who owned most of the games and phones he and his friends desired so much, how the Zuckerbergs of the world made millions of billions of dollars off him and his friends every time he would click, chat, drag, text or tweet, only to flood our no longer affordable city with more 20-something over-paid employees riding in private buses. The same 20- and 30-something people who would rather my son and his poor, working class Black and Brown friends and their families were no longer living in Gentrification City, USA. Yes, I made the connection between video games, tweeting, Face-craking, i-phoning and gentrification and the direct impact it all had on our lives.
The final tragic irony was both Mamahouses were ended by greedy, gentryFUKing landlords, burning us out in MamaHouse 1, and raising our rent by $700.00 in one month in MamaHouse 2, scattering all of us formally houseless mamas into houselessness, again, gentrified out of our working class neighborhoods of color forever by the same forces, industries and tax breaks who were supplying our children with so much digital distraction.
Then, in the last three months, dozens of different mamas and aunties have come to me with stories of 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16-year-old children screaming, destroying things, and/or becoming dangerously violent against their own families when their technology was taken away, limited or withheld. And then the story of Jason Hendrix, 16, of Corbin, Kentucky, who killed his parents, and his sister Grace Hendrix, execution-style in their home, police believe, after his computer privileges were taken away.
In our own Deecolonize Academy – a revolutionary indigenous -run/poor people-led, arts – based school at POOR Magazine and Homefulness, we have addicted children who don’t sleep all night because they proudly announce, “ I’m a gamer, yo.” We have a no-technology rule at school, but sometimes they are so tired they can barely get through a school day. We are hoping to break this addiction next semester when we ask them to lead a WeSearch investigation on the radiation, racist and classist stereotypes and military industrial complex lies funneling into their young heads from the devices. Not to mention their current investigations into gentrification and climate change, both side effects of these extremely wealthy tech dealers who ride private buses and never get arrested for their drug pushing into our children’s minds.
So this is my point fellow mamas and uncles and grammas and dads: You aren’t being mean ’cause you make your child read a paper book, or go outside and play with a ball or have them sit in a car and look out the window without something in their head, hand, ear or eyes, endlessly distracting them, exciting them, stimulating them. This is called Life, and its not always that fun, and there are real tangible ways to interact and get along and learn and be in the world that has NOTHNG to do with digital interaction.
You aren’t being mean if you just say no to a phone at 10 or a computer at 12 or an iPad or tablet at 5. It’s not necessary. Your children will live, and guess what: They will thrive and not be in any creeping danger of never spoken of but very real, brain tumors, early cataracts, glaucoma or thyroid cancers caused by phones, pads, wifi signals or computer blue screens. And if they challenge you, “Well you use the phone, ipad and computer,” remember who the parent is and say, “That’s right, I do, and I’m an adult and you are not, and you have no business comparing yourself to me” (followed up by other issues like who pays the bills, rent, food, clothes, etc if you even entertain their “challenge” this long).
Actually, with this “no,” you will be saving your child from the increasing robotization and corporate theft of our bodies, minds, souls and neighborhoods, and your children will be the few among us actually awake and aware enough to help heal this very tortured mama earth, help their lost, evicted and zombified friends and families and as an extra added bonus they will be ready for the real zombie apocalypse when it arrives.