My Digital Security Blanket

by Lisa Dilg- October 30, 2013 • 2:17 pm

A few weeks ago, I overheard my 13-year-old daughter talking about what she and her twin brother might be for Halloween. I was only half-listening, until she called over to me, “Mom, it’s our last year of trick-or-treating, we have to make it good.” WHAT? Their LAST YEAR??? I was as shocked as if she’d just jumped out from behind a bush and yelled “BOO!” How is this annual ritual already OVER for our family? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was up until the wee hours on October 30thputting finishing touches on their 50s greaser costumes (He was Danny and she was Sandy, of course), or Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh getups?

Seems every day there’s something in their lives that makes me keenly aware that time is passing, and Halloween costumes is definitely one of them. I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked. The transition really started a couple years ago when they asked to go out on Halloween sans parents. We live in a safe neighborhood where we know almost everyone, but I was scared nevertheless and initially said no. And then said no again. And a third time (so I’m stubborn, so what?). What finally convinced me to let them have their way? Oddly, something that had frightened me just as much when it made its first appearance in our lives (another growing-up milestone). My daughter said, “But Mom, we’ll have our cell phones.”

Yes, thank goodness for cell phones. How did my parents manage without them? Many parents I know are against getting their kids phones, but I always tell them that though there was lots to make me nervous (overuse, cyberbullying, all the usual things we parents understandably and sensibly fret over) about the decision to give my kids phones, ultimately I didn’t do it for them. I did it for me. I call their phones my digital security blanket, and they’ve also become so much more. They’re my primary connection to my kids, as they spend more and more time away from me.

Once cell phones were in the picture, I gradually embraced all that came with them. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, texting all keep me somewhat aware of what my kids are doing, saying, thinking when they’re off on their own. I’ve found that we’re all better off if, instead of giving in to my fears and wanting to wall them off from modern technology, I encourage responsible use. After all, they need to learn how to navigate this world, and who better to teach them? The upside that I didn’t realize at first is that their participation in the digital world, just like their carrying cell phones, allows me to pretty easily keep tabs on them without their really noticing. A little creepy? Maybe, but isn’t that our job as parents, to pay attention and know what’s going on? We have the benefit of experience and perspective and can spot early signs of bullying, bad decision-making and many of the other pitfalls of tween and teen life. We can learn more about them and their friends, both to spot potential trouble and to have the pleasure of getting to know these people who mean more to us than almost anyone else in the world.

With my cell phone, I feel like I can have my kids in my pocket. And as I consider what it’ll be like when they eventually leave home for good, not just for one night of traipsing around collecting candy, I breathe a little easier. Knowing they’re always a call or text away (since I know they’ll always have their phones with them) is great, but more than that is knowing there’s a whole virtual world we can connect in, too. One of my friends told me that he sent a care package to his daughter in college but didn’t get a text or email response when it was delivered. But a day later? “The care package made Twitter!”

So yes, I will be a little sad this year as they run off on their last night of trick-or-treating, but I also know they’ll be easily reachable, they’ll be posting photos, they’ll be tweeting about their pillowcase full of sweets. And I’ll wrap myself up in my digital security blanket to keep the fright that every parent has to deal with—on Halloween and every day—at bay.

Photo: Shawn Perez

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