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Your Kid's Ear

I was one of those booked baby-sitters on the block when I was a young teenager. And although the kids were fun, and making money was new and exciting, the real thrill for me was that I was allowed to use the phone as much as I wanted after the kids went to bed. Imagine that. Saturday night was the only time I could talk on the phone on my own terms. A little different than kids today, huh?

In my childhood home, there were two phones. Both were big and black and made of something close in weight to the family car. If it fell, your foot was broken, and that was that. A big ringer box was attached to the wall, and the whole house vibrated. One of the two phones was in my parents’ bedroom. You were only allowed to use that if you told my mom you needed super duper privacy while you waited for your boyfriend to stammer out a date request without being interrupted. Otherwise, you had to use the phone in the entrance hall. The hall had an archway into the living room, another archway into the breakfast room, a staircase, and the front door. For all intents and purposes, it was about as private as a Springsteen concert.

I don’t remember a single conversation that wasn’t interrupted several times by a sister flying down the stairs to see if I was off yet, by my father tapping on his watch as if he were Big Ben, by my mother telling me to get my feet off the credenza, or by someone at the front door lurking in the bushes. You simply had to talk around it.

But before you could even know who was calling, the call had to get through the gatekeepers. If my mother answered the phone, and the caller wasn’t polite, I heard something like, “Lisa....someone is on the phone for you with no manners who doesn’t know how to greet me and wants to know if you are on the premises. You sure you want to associate with them?” Then I would have to crawl to the phone in shame and explain to my friend that they had to say hello to her and ask to talk to me PLEASE and say who they were. It was awful. The caller who got my dad, found a different experience. My dad made friends with all of my friends. If only they knew that he believed in keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. My dad had an art form where he had all my friends talking about their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their parents, and their fears before you ever got to the phone. The friend loved my dad, and the sociopath screening had taken place with my dad having their entire itinerary in his head. I’ll never forget my dad being in a long conversation about which routes you could take to get to my college with a guy friend of mine when snag! My dad asked him where he was going to sleep when he got there. The friend called me and told me about it. He was still telling me how nice my dad was before he realized that the weekend wasn’t happening.

So where telecommunications was concerned, I had no privacy. And I had screeners. If someone had tried something funny, my parents would have known who they were, where they wanted to go to college, if they had any manners, and what route they took without them even knowing it. And I bring this up simply to ask, who are all these kids today talking to on their private cell phones?

I’m not particularly worried about the boogie man. Your kid is probably not talking to a criminal, although she could be. What I’m worried about is what ideas are your kids hearing? What superstitions? What myths are they learning? What stories are they hearing about what happens in their home? What info about sex are they getting? What messages about money? What are they hearing about God? What are they learning about our government? They may be learning gems that you could never teach them. Or they may be learning and modeling cynicism and apathy. All of what children learn from other children is important. It’s all useful. But they need help in how to frame what comes into their world.

Do you know who has your child’s ear? One thing is for sure. Someone has it. Your child is a target market for everything from McDonald’s to Peggy Popular to the Devil Himself. Someone’s opinion is going to find fertile ground in your child. There’s no question about that. The only question is will we be there when the info comes in or later when we’re observing an already formed character?

c.2010, Lisa Wiffledust

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Comment by wiffledust on June 18, 2010 at 11:10am
thanks so much, vickie! my mom was funny. we never had a phone in the kitchen, because she said if she was in the kitchen, then she was busy! hahah the last thing she wanted was us on the phone under her feet. but yes, i think back to how different things were and can hardly believe that kids walk around with a phone in their hand. wouldn't that have been fun? but good for us? probably not.
Comment by Vickie on June 18, 2010 at 11:03am
Awwww Lisa, I so enjoyed reading your blog. Reminds me so much of my house growing up except that we had only one wall phone in the kitchen. Can you imagine! It did seem brutal the very limited way we were allowed to communicate via phone back then; however, in view of present day technology with smart phones kids/young people are attached to the ear with these things. So many apps for anything and everything from A-Z is available to them and most important they are forgetting how to be in a social environment with real live people. Everywhere we go we see kids texting and not even talking on their phones today. Not only is phone etiquette gone down the tubes but so have their grammar. Yes, those good ole days are now fond childhood memories:) Thanks for reminding me of them.
Comment by wiffledust on June 14, 2010 at 10:30am
true....but the kids are so young who have these phones. they are 12, for example. i would like to know who my 12 year old is talking to. and in my experience it's not only other friends they are talking to. for example, they are "dating" someone. the next thing you know they break up. but now the older cousin of the one broken up with is calling and texting them. etc etc. it worries me.
Comment by Helen on June 14, 2010 at 10:19am
Yes, you're right. These kids are located across the globe, but I think a lot of them are still just kids like them, just from different backgrounds and cultures.

It does make it harder for parents/guardians to keep track of who their kids are interacting with, but that loss of control shouldn't be confused with anything else. Really, all parents can do is teach their children to make positive choices and trust that their kids will either make the right choices themselves or go to others for advice if they're unsure. (Sounds simple in theory!)
Comment by wiffledust on June 14, 2010 at 10:09am
i'm not sure, helen. i think their sphere is bigger. i see kids talking to kids from several towns over, from the inner city, etc. so kids that we would have met and left, they continue contact with. i'm not saying that's bad or good. then, they do all this text dating stuff. it's SO much easier for kids to text things to each other that they would be embarrassed to say in person....
Comment by Helen on June 14, 2010 at 10:07am
I didn't see your parents as watching your every move; rather, as involved parents showing concern and interest in their children's lives. That's nice in my opinion.

Who are these kids talking to? Probably still the same kids that we would have talked to in the school playground or at the park. They're just using telephones to continue the conversations that we would have kept until next time.
Comment by wiffledust on June 14, 2010 at 9:59am
thanks, helen. i made this sound like they were watching every move. and they really weren't. it just was sort of LIKE that, because we didn't have as much as kids have today. and i just can't imagine having my own cell phone and private stash of friends as a young teenager that my parents knew nothing about. i see kids on their phone and wonder who are they talking to????
Comment by Helen on June 14, 2010 at 9:57am
Great blog, Lisa. Thanks for sharing your experiences growing up. It's fun to hear about what was everyday to others, when it can be so different to your own experience.

I think role models are really important for kids. Showing rather than telling works better in my opinion.
Comment by wiffledust on June 13, 2010 at 10:07pm
i feel pretty strongly that parents need to know who their kids' friends are. it seems like today parents have no clue who all these texters are. it wigs me out!
Comment by Paul Halpern on June 13, 2010 at 10:05pm
I fully agree Lisa. I think parents also need to monitor the technology too, and place reasonable limits, which depend upon the maturity of the kids. If a phone interferes with a child's schooling, etc, they shouldn't be allowed to have one.

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