Walking home from school yesterday, my son turns to me and says, "So, when can I get a cell phone, Mom?"
He's 8. How on earth... What the... Why? Who? What?!
He went on to talk about the kids in the fourth grade (fourth grade!) who are texting each other in the hallways at school. He talked about how important it is to be able to talk to his friends and let them know if he'll be late for class. I turned my head to look at him at this point, and I swear I felt like the exorcist when her head started spinning.
What on earth was he talking about? It's my job to let his teacher know if he's late, not his. And certainly not to his friend. Did he turn 16 and I hadn't noticed? I had to know this was coming, why was I so surprised? Well, like most parents, I was surprised because this growing-up-and-being-influenced-by-others thing is never supposed to happen to our kids, right?
He actually pointed out several kids who were walking home around us, with their heads bowed down and their thumbs flailing wildly over these little black rectangles in their hands. It was a beautiful fall day. Crisp, clean air. Gorgeous blue sky, some leaves starting to turn. And there they were... heads bowed down, missing all of it.
And of course the reason I was so uncomfortable is that this experience was making me evaluate my own behavior (how rude). It made me wonder how many times I had missed beautiful things so my own thumbs could flail over my own little black rectangle.
I turned to him and said, "Wait a minute. Can't you just talk to them face-to-face? You remember that? Like, talking, talking? You know, like we're doing now?"
He looked up at me and shrugged his shoulders. Gave me a sideways smile and said, "Yeah. I guess."
I didn't talk to him too much about the studies being done lately about the lack of empathy in children. About the brutal texts that start to fly back and forth, and the confidence, courage and happiness that have been squashed because of them.
I get giving kids phones, I really do. There are parents that work long hours to support their kids, and they need to know where they are. There are safety issues, I understand that.
I'm just not sure how to navigate it fully myself. I've already made up my mind that my son can have a flip phone when he's older. I can call him, know where he is. But Internet access? Oy. I don't know. And I realize I can't keep him from this forever, I know that. But it doesn't make the facts any less unsettling.
I'm not sure I made that big of an impression on his little mind, but I'll keep working on it. Oh, and for those that are curious, the answer was a resounding, "Not yet".
He looked up at me and whine, "Oh man. Come on. Please?"
I ruffled his head. "We'll talk about it more next year. I promise. For now, I'll make sure you're safe at school, the nurse or the principal can all me directly and you can talk to your friends face-to-face."
That awesome kid nodded. I know he wasn't thrilled, but he also knew I wasn't going to budge.
But watching those kids walking while texting yesterday got me thinking about my own example to my kids. How many times do I answer a question from my kids while typing on the computer or phone? How many times do I say, "Hang on just one sec..."
Once these little ones do have phones, if I want them to put the phone down when I talk to them, then I'm going to have to start doing the same. Now. I've set a little goal for myself, starting today:
When my kids need my attention, or they ask me a question, I'll turn from the non-human technology, and pay attention to the human in front of me. The living, breathing human being, and I'll have a face-to-face conversation.
Huh. Imagine that.