My husband and I have had some late nights recently. This isn’t because our social life has suddenly caught fire. Instead, at the time we usually crawl into bed and fluff our pillows, we’ve been sitting by the phone, waiting for our fourteen-year old to call. The previous week has been filled with activities, all of which have ended late. Lizzie has been hanging out with friends, having dinner, going to outdoor movies, and, in general, staying out past our bedtimes. It seems like just yesterday her nights out ended around 8 or 9pm — or involved a sleepover, where it didn’t really matter when we went to sleep. Now, Jeff and I groggily watch House Hunters International and stare at the phone, willing it to ring.
Because of her new social life, we finally broke down and joined what seems to be every other family in America: we gave our kid a phone. Before this, I couldn’t justify giving her one (and I’m still a little puzzled why so many young children “need” them). If Lizzie biked to the library or walked to get a frozen yogurt with a friend, we knew she’d eventually come home. I’d thought of phones as yet another unnecessary technology and unneeded expense. To me, they seemed almost like a leash, tethering kids to parents. Plus, I worried about this:
But now that she’s older, straying further and farther from home, I can see their value. As Jeff handed her the phone — a plain, pay-as-you-go model, nothing too fancy — she typed into it, fingers flying, setting up her email accounts and link to our phones. We’re astonished how quickly she can type on it, although I shouldn’t be. When we were in New York City, I wanted to check a museum’s website to find out if it was open. I pulled out my phone and slowly typed on its tiny keyboard, my fingers suddenly enormous.
Lizzie fidgeted and held out her hand. “Want me to do it?”
I assured her I could do it all by myself. Albeit slowly.
“But it’s really painful to watch you,” she said.
Finally, Jeff’s phone vibrated and buzzed. At last! We flipped it on. A text message read, “Hey.”
“Ready to go home?” Jeff typed. (Only a little faster than I can. Okay. To be honest, it’s a lot faster.) Then we noticed the time stamp from Lizzie’s text — 5:45pm — it was a practice text from earlier, linking her text app to our phones. So he added, “Or are you still having fun?”
Right away, we got this: “Still having fun.”
So Jeff typed: “Call later.”
Then nothing. We immediately decided to add “Please respond to our text to let us know you got it.” to our short list of phone rules. Maybe cell phones make parents more anxious rather than less so. A half hour later, we got a call. I could finally exhale.
I think the teen years are going to be interesting. Already, I’ve discovered that I need to take a breath, sit back and trust her. That and get used to staying up late. Luckily, I like House Hunters International.