The phone in my house rarely rings. Honestly, if the phone rings, I know it's my parents, my best friend (who is so used to dialing my home number that she forgets to call my cell) or someone I do not know. When I click through the caller ID, it is not uncommon to see that no one has called the house for a good three days or so. I've kept my landline because of the eight-year-old who might need it, but as time goes on, I'm more convinced I ought to change that over to a cell phone just so the "house phone" can be portable.
The weirdest thing about no one calling is that I have a teenager. When I was a kid, between my two sisters and myself, my mom could never use the phone. It was constantly in use not to mention the source of all sorts of sister fights. I cannot count how many times during my teen years that I'd turn off the ringers on all the house phones except for the one that was just outside my room so that I could sneak the phone into my room for late night conversations.
And now? Well, as I said, the phone never rings, and it hasn't since I first got my older son an iPod touch in 4th grade. It was about that time he discovered most of his friends also had similar devices, and they could FaceTime or use an app to text each other whenever they wanted. And, the hard part about keeping tabs on that, was that he also loved to listen to music while he sleeps so taking the device away from him at night initially didn’t seem fair.
Of course, as he grew older, I became more and more keen to the late night texting, watching YouTube videos, and the ability to pull up a movie or show on Netflix. And, this only seemed to grow once we got him a smart phone. For a time I was pretty sure worrying about this technology thing was going to kill me.
I'm not one of those moms who demands to see all his texts and troll through his Facebook pages. Heck, when I was a kid if I caught my mom reading my notes from friends, I felt totally violated not to mention angry that she didn't seem to trust me. Our notes weren't about doing bad things; well sure, there might be a mention of a party or something, but for the most part, it was about communicating with our friends when we felt trapped in the house or at school. I think - no, I am almost positive - that my son is a good kid and probably very much like me, so until I feel like things are not the way they should be, I will for the most part respect that privacy.
I do think it's important to understand and know what our kids are doing online. My husband is friends with him on Facebook, and we know what other social media outlets he partakes in. The rule is we can demand to see what he's up to or watching any time.
We are actively involved parents and spend time talking to him everyday to see what's going on in his life. When things seem off, we ask him about it. When it seems like that door to his room has been closed too long, we check-in. And, it is never ever acceptable to be staring at the phone or touching it, if we are talking—whether it's at the dinner table or just chatting.
I've heard a lot of parents say their kids are addicted to their devices. Well, I don't know if it's so much of an addiction, but more of a sign of the times. This is how kids today communicate. It’s not that much different from when we were kids and had the phone permanently attached to our heads (so much so that some families got call waiting or teen lines), or the endless hours we spent wandering the mall, meeting in parking lots and hanging out, whatever. I think it's just that much harder to do some of those things than it used to be due to malls cracking down on wandering teenagers, anti-cruising laws, private security companies casing every vacant parking lot in town, etc. Not to mention, kids are more scheduled than they used to be. When and where do they get the time to hang out and socialize anymore except for online?
A few months ago, I was reading Wired Magazine and saw an opinion piece entitled "Don't Blame Social Media if Your Teen is Unsocial. It's Your Fault." Of course, a title this enticing deserved a read. Wow. It sounded just like me. Maybe I wasn't the only person in the world that thought about social media the way I do. Maybe I wasn't such a bad parent for not enforcing 24/7 big brother surveillance of my kid's every move.
The piece referenced the book, It's Complicated: The Social Life of Networked Teens written by Danah Boyd. The book is the result of almost a decade of research by Boyd in which she interviewed and observed teens from all walks of life about how they used social media, interacted and communicated with friends and family, as well as what their everyday lives were like. I have downloaded the book, and though I have not finished it yet, wow! this is truly eye-opening. I feel like I have highlighted (and I'm not usually a highlighter unless I'm doing research) more than I have left alone.
What she finds is that teens are doing what they have always done, just in a different way. She addresses bullying, literacy, privacy, safety and all the other things that we as parents worry about when we look at these connected kids. She places some blame on the parents for their fears of "stranger danger" and therefore not letting kids get together and just be kids.
She calls out the adults on their equal reliance on their devices by incessantly checking email, Facebook, and always being available to the digital world. It truly is complicated, this digital world we live in. But, for you parents out there with teens, this is definitely worth a read—whether you agree with her or not.
In the meantime, I'm making more of a concerted effort to get myself off my devices when the kids are around. I really don't need to get to the next level of Candy Crush, text silly messages back and forth with my friends, or peruse every single page of the 72,000 shoes available on my favorite shopping site. How are the kids supposed to think that it's not okay to spend all their free-time online, if I'm doing the same thing?
And that phone ringing thing? Well, as anyone who knows me knows, I'm not much of a phone talker anyway—the less it rings, the happier I am. Maybe it is time to get rid of that extra line once and for all.