The scary issues of raising kids in the digital age are well documented, but I want to red flag the subtle changes in parenting that occur because of the ubiquitous cell phone, without our even noticing. One of those very moments occurred in my house this week.
It's after dinner -- a long, leisurely one -- and still sitting around the table is my ex-husband and another couple we have been friends with for years, along with their three pretty great kids. Suddenly our seventeen year old disappears and then reappears back in the kitchen, coat on, bag packed (ready for the next in a long line of constant sleepovers, but that's a topic for another blog) and cell phone "superglued" to her right hand.
"I'm leaving. Steven's outside. Bye!" Before my mouth closes she's out the door, unaware of the hour-long discussion that's about to ensue. I have been down this road with my daughter before. "It is important to me that your date or whoever is picking you up, come inside the house to say hello." Her response: abject horror, as if this is the single most insane thing I have ever said (until the next time I say something.) How can I be so insensitive, embarrassing...? (You fill in the blanks).
Right under our noses, cell phones are undermining centuries of date etiquette. The result is not pretty. Along with landlines, the doorbell is becoming extinct, and with it, the one opportunity you have to look the kid (friend, date) in the eye, assess his/her demeanor (ie: sobriety) and make sure he knows I'm watching.
Larry jumps in: "What difference does it make? I know the kid. It's fine." I disagree, and here is why: How are teenagers going to learn basic manners if they are never given the opportunity to practice? We're underestimating the power of contact, conversation and accountability. It's that important.
The other couple concurs with me, saying that just last week their daughter was picked up by a suitor who sent her a text when he arrived, prompting her to run out the door. It bothered them at the time, but they hadn't thought much about it. The father said, "Never again!"
It's a subtle thing, but it matters. It is tempting to be the "cool" parent, and to go with the flow of today's way of doing things. But as outdated as some traditional rituals may be, there are others that we should hang on to. Like insisting our daughters' suitors look us in the eye before taking them out, engaging in a little friendly small talk, and making sure they know that this girl has parents who are involved. We may be annoying, but love sometimes is. When our girls become women, hopefully they'll do the same thing for their own daughters -- and thank us for caring enough to show them how it's done.