A Mom's Ode to Her Phone
I spend so much time time trying to manage my kids' access to Club Penguin, Wii or iPod, that I sometimes want to turn into a Luddite and ban everything. And then I try to imagine life without my smartphone.
There is a dark cloud hanging over me these days. Or, more accurately, there's a dark cloud hanging over my iPhone. After serving as my personal control center for a year, the phone vanished one night. Luckily, I realized it was irretrievably gone in time to contact AT&T, thus saving myself from having to pay for the calls to Guatemala someone had thoughtfully placed from it.
Once I'd brushed the tears from my eyes, gotten up from the fainting couch and could breathe normally again on my own, I went back to the Apple store and replaced it. (This would be the time to confess that I forget to synch it. Frequently.)
A very happy, very hip young woman helped me with my purchase, congratulated me (if I ever win the lottery I'd buy something from the Apple store every week, just to get that pat on the back for the wisdom of my purchases), and sent me on my way.
I had barely processed my consumer high when disaster struck. I find this hard to talk about even now, weeks later, but here goes: One day I tossed my phone into one of the cupholders in the minivan and drove for a half an hour before realizing that the cupholder was, bizarrely, full of water.
You may have heard my scream when I realized what had happened. Yup, that was me.
It was dead. Dead, dead, dead. I slunk back to the Apple store, dressed funereal black, and the nice people there replaced it for me again, free of charge. I am not sure whether that's because I was lying in a fetal position, wrapped around the salesman's foot, or whether it had something to do with the loud keening noises I was making. At any rate, I am pretty sure they wanted me to be on my way as fast as possible.
I love my phone. It's not just a piece of technology that enables me to keep in contact with the outside world, transport the family calendar, and take pictures when I am out and about. It's an integral tool in my parenting arsenal.
I hope this doesn't horrify you. The road to family ruin is paved with technology and all that. But I am not talking about moms with cell phones plastered to their ears all day; dads fiddling away on their crackberries; or the kind of parental disconnect parodied by the October New Yorker cover showing trick-or-treaters up at a house door, while their silhouetted parents wait down the steps, their faces downcast and lit up by the glow of their smartphones, ignoring the children's experience of the holiday.
Like all technology, smartphones can be addictive and cause problems. But used judiciously, they can make as much a difference in our parenting lives as washing machines made in our grandmothers'. OK, maybe not quite that much. But certainly, they can make life easier.
Ironically, I don't make many calls with mine. But I text all the time, mostly with my teenager. Like many Chevy Chase parents, I've found that texting provides a handy electronic leash. We check in with our teens as they wander around Bethesda, send them a message reminding about something they need to do right after school, or let them know that it is TIME TO COME HOME, all without their friends knowing. Which makes them more amenable — or as amenable as teens get — to communicating with us.
By all means, hold off as long as possible before letting them have text messaging capability, look into unlimited plans once they do, or at least set very strict limits and be prepared to enforce them. According to the Nielsen Company, teens send an average of 3,146 texts a month — ikr! (If you aren't familiar with the abbreviation, click the link.) If they gave out varsity letters for texting, B-CC High School would probably find itself with a whole lotta All-Americans.
You might as well harness that energy, or at least some of it. If our kids are checking for texts from friends, they can't avoid getting texts from us — and if they ignore them, well, we're paying the bill, right? Take the phone away for a week. I am pretty sure it will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship — at least via text — between you and your child.
And then there's the safety issue, or, more accurately, the "peace of mind" issue, which is something that all parents crave. The Pew Research Center found that 94 percent of parents, and nearly 98 percent of mothers, feel better about their child's safety because they have a cell phone. And while it is important to remember that cell phones do not turn into an Iron Man suit, protecting the child from all dangers, keeping the lines of communication open certainly helps. Knowing that your child has a way to reach you if they are stuck — and good luck finding a pay phone these days — is also reassuring.
And then there are the apps. Here are five that are especially helpful for parents:
- Good Food Near You (iPhone). Great for road trips when you want something besides chicken McNuggets, or for when Happy Meals are the only option and you want to know the calorie count difference between the garden and Asian salad.
- Open Table (available in for both Android and iPhones): An easy way to facilitate restaurant reservations for a well-earned night out.
- Parking Assist (iPhone) or Smart Park (Android): OK, it's not that we are getting older, it's that we have so much on our minds, right? Too much to do and too little time, and before you know it, you can't remember where you parked at Montgomery Mall when you meant to just dash in to Old Navy for some shorts for your son.
- Tripit (iPhone and Android): Consolidate all your trip information — flight, rental car, hotel information — without having to carry around a folder. You can access the information when you're on the road, even when you can't access the Internet.
White Noise (iPhone and Android): Download this sleeping tool for soothing background sounds when you discover that the reviews on TripAdvisor neglected to mention that the hotel is by a construction site.
And so, while there are unquestionably negatives that go along with the explosion of new technology in our lives, I am not surprised to find that those busy Pew researchers have discovered that technology is actually bringing families closer together. Now I am just waiting for an app that can actually do my laundry.