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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 13, 2010 at 9:58pm
thanks, paul. but i think that kids can't do it all themselves. i think they need some steering from adults. i really do. they are on these things allllll dayyyy longgggg. i wonder if it's not their biggest influence now.
Comment by Paul Halpern on June 13, 2010 at 9:57pm
You raise very important points. I think it is important for parents and teachers to instruct kids about the proper etiquette and use of technology, alerting them about potential dangers.

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