Can You Hear Me Now?
Just Another Part of Parenting
I have actually taken my son Vince's phone away for a while and his car, too: for example, just a few weeks ago when he stayed out all night long after playing a show with his rock band and did not go to school the next morning. He reacted to these deprivations, at least for a few days, with relief. He did not have to receive the thousands of text messages sent to him by his girlfriend every few hours, nor did he have to answer his phone when it rang, as it does almost continually, throughout the afternoon, evening, and weekend.
I can see the clandestine, note-passing pleasure of text messaging, and watch in awe the skill and speed kids have developed with the cumbersome and inefficient typing system. Even adults sometimes prefer to avoid the social challenges of conversation and simply fire off a question or an answer when one is required. However, the multitasking environment in which texting occurs is simply beyond our Get Smart-era comprehension. According to a 2005 study, kids between 8 and 18 spend nearly six and a half hours per day switching among computers, TVs, movies, video games, MP3s, and talking on the phone. A teacher at the college where I work told me he doesn't mind when students surf the Net during his lecture "because that's the way they listen."
My elder son is at college now himself, and with him, cell phone interaction has taken a more positive turn. Since I never really need to know where he is, that whole dilemma is diffused. He calls me more often than I call him, because now that my role as idiot enforcer is over, my role as omniscient expert and personal banker has begun. Questions such as "do you put milk in an omelet?" or "can you put wool in the dryer?" are resolved the instant they arise. "Can you put some money in my bookstore account?" -- well, sure. He likes to tell me when he gets a good grade on a test, or see if I can come watch the crew team row in Princeton. And if I call him at a bad time, he politely texts me back: "In class now, Mom. Will call later."
I assume I'm about to start the cycle again with my daughter, Jane, 7. Not too soon, I hope, though she's already told me she has a friend with a Firefly, a phone designed for little kids with just five parent-programmable buttons. I've heard that a daughter with a cell phone is a different -- and far more fearsome -- animal than a boy. Will I be receiving camera-phone messages from the mall, requesting payment approval for the pink miniskirt and crop top I see on my screen? Will my daughter call and talk to me just so she doesn't "look like a loser" as she crosses a street? Will her immersion in the conversation cause her to be hit by a bus?
Perhaps, the truth is, once you're a parent, there's no scenario that doesn't involve vehicular trauma. And you'll need your cell phone when it happens, believe me.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2008.