By Gregory Keer
In my youngest son’s preschool, the teachers furnish the cubbies with slips of paper that say, “Ask me about…” followed by a tidbit regarding each child’s activities.
One day at pick-up, I asked Ari about building a fort with his buddies.
“How did you know I did that?” Ari inquired guardedly.
“I read it on the paper from your teachers,” I replied.
At this, my son broke into tears, “I don’t want to share all my secrets!”
Because I prize the uninhibited daily accounts I usually get from Ari and my loquacious middle child, Jacob (8), this was a serious blow I blame on the influence of my eldest boy. Benjamin (11) keeps secrets better than a Cold War spy. During countless car rides and dinners, he’s had the same response whenever we’ve asked him what he did for his day: “Nothing.”
In the early years, we wised up and got the scoop from his instructors, other parents, and his friends.
“Benjamin had to sit on the rug in front of Ms. Renetzky,” one girl told us about him in kindergarten.
Luckily, he’s been a largely low-maintenance child, who laughs readily, still cuddles a little while watching TV with the family, and shares his iPod downloads with us. Frankly, we like him a lot.
But as he climbs the ladder of adolescence, that penchant for saying little is driving my wife and me bonkers. Making matters more complicated are the hints from other parents about Benjamin’s burgeoning interest in girls and leaks from teachers about his lapses in diligence.
We’ve tried to crack his Keanu Reeves affect with face-to-face conversation. I’ve had several talks about the birds and the bees without so much as a flutter of feedback. To no avail, I’ve tried humor and bellowing to learn what he does while he’s at school or hanging out with buddies.
This is why we’ve begun to rely on the very mechanism that makes Benjamin tick – technology. We eventually gave in to a cell phone under the condition that we had full access to monitor it. And while we’ve had our trials of making sure he’s safe from wayward adults and overly mature contemporaries, we’ve become fans of this device because it’s given us a remarkably effective means of communicating with our thoroughly modern son.
Here’s a sample of the texts we’ve discovered our son has sent and what we’ve done in response:
“Don’t tell anyone, but Jimmy likes you a little.” This led to a discussion about everything from what “like” means to an 11 year old to what you should do if you and your best friend “like” the same young lady. It also forced me to learn that kids no longer call someone “cute” because it means they “like” another person a bit more than I heretofore thought “like” meant.
“My parents took my phone away. That’s fine because I can still use the computer.” We took the computer away too. The crucial benefit of my child’s attachment to his technology is that I can take it all away to teach him some lesson about being kinder to his family members and doing his chores.
“I just forgot to tell you about the D in math.” Actually, this was a response from our son that came to us when we texted him from the back-to-school night presentation. We had discovered we should have seen the five-week report card that afternoon. Using a text from the very site of his ill-fated arithmetic results made it hard for him to conjure any answer but the truth.
Not all the texting is negative. It’s good for our son to know he has yet to completely outfox us. We’re swift and savvy enough to learn the texting lingo and ins-and-outs of its usage to make sure he acts his best. Even if he gets a few texts by us, he knows we’re watching, so it makes him think twice about what he writes.
Secondly, getting more adept with our thumbs has allowed my wife and me to send our son reminders about his schedule and to pull more information out of him than we thought possible. It also gives us conversation starters to get specific details on his relationships, interests, and plans.
He actually thinks we’re not so square because we can communicate this way, which is a nice byproduct for a dad who still questions the attractiveness of wearing pants without a belt.