Let’s Get Serious is an occasional series in which I ponder serious and/or of-the-moment issues that affect us all. Please submit future topic suggestions here.
I had two childhood rooms. The first was next door to my parents’ room. When I hit junior high and developed a desperate urge for more privacy, I moved to the rec room downstairs, where I promptly went crazy and became a hellion. Just kidding.
Mostly I used my newfound freedom to plaster New Kids on the Block posters on every square inch of the walls, and to commandeer an old black&white TV I found in storage so I could watch very fuzzy episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and MTV videos. I also petitioned adamantly for a phone in my room.
Because, hello! It’s junior high. Finding out who was “going with” whom and making prank phone calls (“Is your refrigerator running? Better go catch it!”) was my life, and I wasn’t about to stand around in the kitchen upstairs saying “Omigod, are you serious!?!” whilst doing crunches on the tile floor. Nor did my parents want to hear that noise. So they didn’t put up much of a fight. They gave me a few basic ground rules. No phone calls after 10. I had to hang up immediately if they needed to make a call. But most of all they gave me freedom to talk in private. Of course it was fake privacy, anyone could pick up the line and eavesdrop, but it felt real, and that’s all that matters.
Today’s kids don’t talk as much out loud. They talk with their fingers. They talk via selfies. They use social media, smartphones and tablets. Their words carry more weight because they’re tangible. And yet they are instantly forgettable. Technology is fleeting like that. And you know what? Good. Good for technology. This is the world we live in now, for better or worse, and it’s crucial that we accept that.
I’ve been reading far too many things lately about Evil Technology and how it’s ruining everything. Parents are up in arms about whether to allow their kids a cellphone. Whether they should sign a contract stipulating exact times and uses for said cellphone. The extensive lists of teen tech rules make even my very responsible adult eyes glaze over.
Look, I realize every generation is skeptical of the communication methods of the next. My parents thought we were out of our minds with the pagers in the mid-’90s. I’m sure the first-generation phone parents wanted to urge their kids to instead write letters to their suitors instead of ringing on the phone.
It’s nice to be nostalgic and all, but it’s so insulting, not to mention annoying, to treat teens like they are incapable of handling something they have been trained to do since before they were in kindergarten. Technology is their language. It’s time to hope that the social skills and manners you taught them will be put to good use, that they will not abuse their newfound freedom. This is sink or swim time. Take off their life jackets; it will do them no good in the real world. Parents are so concerned about their kids getting hurt by social media, but here’s the rub: Kids need to learn how to get along with their peers. Kids simply cannot afford be illiterate about social media.
I’m sure you remember the kids (perhaps you were friends with one) whose parents never let them watch non-PG-rated films. These were the kids who would spend the night at my house and go absolutely ballistic, bingeing on hardcore fare such as “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Dirty Dancing.” These were later the kids who would get rip-roaring drunk at a high school party and end up pregnant.
I realize this is anecdotal evidence, but I believe in my experiences: Loosen your kid’s leash. Give them the freedom to fail. Maybe they will astonish you by succeeding instead.
Rules do not have to be so strict. Use the KISS philosophy, really. A simple “do the right thing” and “because I said so” should suffice for most circumstances. Monitoring the phone use seems to be the biggest concern. But why? Good grief, if I thought my mom was reading my diary when I was 16 … and make no mistake, a cellphone is pretty much a diary now. Well, I shudder at the thought. Of course she COULD HAVE read it, but I doubt that she did. Instead she did this thing. Maybe you’ve heard about it. Wait for it …
She talked to me.
Even when I rolled my eyes, she asked me questions. She was genuinely interested in me. She didn’t need to monitor me. She had eyes in the back of her head for that. And when I made a phone call at midnight, her Mom Ears knew, and my phone was taken away for a few weeks as punishment. You better believe I followed the rules after that.