My daughter has a cell phone, like almost all too young children in our Community, and others like it. Legions of children armed with smart phones, playing games, texting home work, and duck faced selfies across the country.
I know that many feel 11 is too young. But my daughter has actually had her phone for a few years at this point.Don’t judge! There are reasons for my decisions: Firstly, as a New Yorker who lived here during 911, and as a parent PTA volunteer who followed the school buses home from the school to make sure that there were actually parents there to welcome the children home after such a devastating series of events. We had no idea how many parents we lost. The other reason is that the little red flip phone was the only way to get my daughter to sleep at her father’s home at eight years old. It remained in her bag, and was rarely used, except for those times that she could not get to sleep and needed mommy. I figured that it was a reasonable concession in trying times. Like the umbilical cord, that phone was her connection to me, any time she needed a bit of familiarity.
Fast forward to her tenth birthday, and all her music being on her broken iPod, and her phone contract expired, she got upgraded, like all her friends around her. It is like a society of mini adults connected to their electronics.
Honestly, with certain prohibitions, See #s 5,6, I believe it is OK, for the most part, and it certainly comes in handy. We have an ongoing group chat, keeping me and the kids connected to each other. We can all be in different places, but we are all connected.
Quick! Look at this! A photo appears from one of them, allowing me to share what they witnessed as beauty in the world, or as humorous on Facebook. It is a quick connection about whether or not they can bring friends home for dinner or if I remembered to return the library book. It is a functional open communication tool, that I love! Not to mention, my ongoing romance with Evernote. Paper be gone, we are a technologically advanced family of the 21st century.
Then, in the ninth inning, ( I hate sports references, but it just seems to fit), comes the curve ball. Late for school, my daughter leaves her phone on my desk.
Bored at work, and knowing it is time to do my weekly phone check for violent games, text conversations that may be of interest, photos from her “other family” that I torture myself with, and who knows what else.
I log in with the shared family password that is a non-negotiable, and I find some lovely things- a video that she recorded of herself practicing her chorus songs and a picture of all the kids together, you know where. I continue to scroll through the pictures, deleting one of myself in which I thought I looked fat, and WTF did I just see???
A picture of my daughter’s vagina. My hands are shaking as I type this, because my initial fears were that she met a man playing an online game and would send nudie picture of herself to him. Tears immediately flooded my eyes, as I almost smashed the phone down on the ground to break it. Instead, I demanded composure from myself, as I needed to keep the evidence, and search for more… texts, nope, only little girls and her brothers and her father and cousins, and a little boy from band asking about the make up schedule for rehearsal. Emails? Nope. Just her share of Bed Bath and Beyond coupons from my dishonest use of her email address.
I searched her photo trash. Nothing there. Just the picture of myself that I just deleted and a picture of her messy bedroom, and some deleted selfies with her friends take at a playdate. I remember them discussing that they would delete them, because neither was satisfied. 🙁
Counting the hours till the school bus brought her home, I grabbed her as soon as she walked in the door. Sweets, we need to talk. Knowing that there was no way around it, we started with my usual opening, that as a mother, it is my absolute right and obligation to watch over her etc, and that her privacy is limited etc….. She looked down and started to cry. She knew what I had found. “I Wanted to See What It Looked Like Down There!”
She looked so little and so scared. After our repeat discussions about what is and is not ok, I was relieved and reassured. Her cell phone had become the mirror that I am sure we all used at one point to see what was doing “down there”. She ready Judy Blume’s Are you there God, It’s Me Margaret with my OK. I remember having to sneak the book into the house at her age. We discussed it as opening as I wished my own mother would have.
She was both embarrassed and relieved that nothing was really wrong. I was restored to my normal pulse and heart rate, and took advantage of the opportunity to hug my little girl who was quickly growing up. We had a long talk with some ice cream ( don’t judge. I know I looked fat in that picture that I deleted, but we could not very well share some red wine.). We spoke about self respect and how not to behave. We talked about a local suicide after a high school girl shared such pictures, and the love of her life disseminated them all over town. ( This nasty world sometimes call for brutal honesty).
My world restored to its wobbly norm, I hugged my baby girl and reminded her to go do her home work, so she could go to ballet. I took a Xanax and caught up on my work. Another day, another crisis.