My daughter Summer and three of her friends hopped in my car after a weekend of soccer down south and within 15 minutes, the chattering about the happenings of the weekend had ceased and in its place was a brand of silence familiar to parents of teens everywhere.
They entered what I call “Cell Jail.” Once you see the glow of the phone shine on their face, you have lost them for a little while, unless you force them to actually carry on a conversation with you. And even then, their eyes slowly drift up to you as they answer any question you might ask, then back down to the handheld device that seems to have a greater pull on their attention.
They are officially in the phone zone.
I looked at Summer, who was sitting to my right, and said, “You wanna know what we did in my day when traveling with our families or friends?”
“Let me guess,” she said with a twinge of sarcasm. “You guys actually talked to each other, or you listened to music together or you stared out the window taking in the sights of your surroundings.”
“Oh, have I mentioned this before?” I asked, with a sly smile creeping across my face.
She laughed and looked back at her friends, “Only every time we go on a road trip with you.”
As they sat back in comfortable silence checking on the statuses of friends, watching funny videos posted by people they have never met, nor ever will meet, I began thinking about my own childhood.
Did we have it better?
Do they have it better?
Which way adds more value to life?
I mean, clearly, life was simpler back then and cell phones have added complication to our lives…but do they actually offer more positives than negatives?
And, honestly, could we ever really know the answer to that?
I’ll tell you what I feel we’ve lost since cell phones have become so prevalent in our lives, but I can also tell you what I feel we’ve gained from owning cell phones that have made our life better and much easier.
What I feel we’ve lost is our innocence in a way. With the internet being readily available at our fingertips through our cell phones, children are being exposed to things that their little psyches aren’t quite ready for. Things that, sadly, darken their innocence in ways that can never be reversed. This is the part that most upsets me about children owning their own cell phone.
Fortunately, however, apps are constantly being created and developed to help control what children can and cannot see on their phone.
Gone are the days when you would read the back of a cereal box while eating your morning breakfast or reading the back of a shampoo bottle while sitting on the powder room throne for any length of time.
There was something so sweet and innocent about those days.
In those “good ole days,” boys would stand around watching their dad tinker under the hood of their family car. This quality time between father and son was usually a complete blend of bonding, while also learning valuable information about the upkeep of cars.
When not on the phone or doing some sort of arts and crafts project with friends, girls usually spent time in the kitchen with their moms. This mother-daughter time was such a perfect time for a young girl to learn her way around a kitchen, while also getting to know her mom a little better.
Nowadays, boys can use their phone to click on YouTube and instantly learn how to do everything from tying a bow tie to changing a flat tire to learning how to correctly kiss a girl for the first time!
Girls can use their phone to click on sites that will show them how to do everything from cooking a turkey dinner, to applying makeup, to how to properly insert a tampon!
Wait! Is this good a good thing?!?
Well, for the record, I believe the internet is ultimately a good thing for our world. It is a very helpful tool to have in just about every aspect of life. With that being said, my new question then becomes, is it an overall healthy thing for our lives?
But maybe not.
I cannot help but believe that something very valuable is lost between parents and their children these days because of cell phones and how early our children are receiving their very own.
Think about it. If the answers to life’s everyday questions are so readily available to children who own their own cell phone, then of course you can surmise that our children would rather quietly use their fingertip to get an answer to a very embarrassing question rather than ask their mom or dad about it.
But you truly lose something so special and so valuable in the interim.
You lose bonding moments, invaluable life lessons, as well as, precious memories with your parents….the two people you can trust most in this world. What you cannot get from your phone is someone more trustworthy than your parents to give you sound, loving and and appropriate life advice.
Take a young woman’s menstrual cycle, for example. When a girl starts her period, it is life altering for her. There are so many questions; so many confusing feelings about it all. It’s also such a private experience in a girl’s life that even sharing this news with her mom can feel incredibly awkward and uncomfortable.
I can totally see how it would be much easier to grab your phone and google how to deal with this part of womanhood. But what you can’t know as a teenage girl is how much better and more valuable it can be to include your mom in this very big and special part of becoming a woman.
Moms know how to put their daughters at ease. This is also a good time for moms to share their own teenage experience with their daughter and explain how and why this part of growing up is so important. The memory of this time will remain etched in a girl’s mind forever.
I remember being in my bathroom with my face in my hands, while my mom was right outside my bathroom door trying to coach me on how to use this womanly product that made no sense to me. For heaven’s sake, until that time, I didn’t even know there was another place down there for anything to be inserted into! While mom was laughing on her side of the door, I was in tears hollering, “Mom! What are you talking about!! How did I not know about this one!!”
The next thing I saw was a flat, hand-held mirror that my mom had slipped under the bathroom door, followed by the sound of her laughter that got even louder when she heard me gasp in horror.
I can’t help but laugh just thinking about it all. Lol!
Memories…Time together…Valuable lessons from your mom. These are the parts of life you lose when you only seek answers from your cell phone.
I will never forget running for Student Council Secretary at University Elementary when I was in the 5th or 6th grade.
I remember telling my parents that I needed to make many copies of my flyer so that people would, of course, know to vote for me.
We didn’t own a copy machine, of course, and there was no way my parents were going to run around town trying to find one the night before the election.
Instead, my dad said, “Teri, what do I always tell you about these sorts of things? ‘If it is to be, it’s up to me,’ right? So, don’t blame your mom and me for this one. If you really want to get your name out there, you will just need to figure out what you need to do to make it happen… without a copy machine.”
So, I did.
I asked my dad to draw a picture of a cute skunk on about 30 5×5 cardstock papers that my mom had hidden away in her wrapping paper drawer.
After he drew them for me, I cut each skunk out, colored the little fellas black and white and wrote in big black letters across these little stinkers:
“Don’t Stink, Vote Spinks”
The next morning, I taped some of my skunks to the walls in the classroom and the rest I pinned on the chest of some of my grade-school buddies.
Meanwhile, my opponent in the race, Holly Fullilove, whose mom clearly loved her more than my parents loved me, had a zillion copies of the cutest cutouts with happy hearts dancing all over the page. They were scattered throughout the school and everyone had one pinned to their shirt. Even I wanted one!….Why? Because they all came with a strawberry flavored heart-shaped sucker. I mean, it’s kinda hard to compete with someone whose last name, Fullilove, is basically “full-of-love” if you break it down.
Needless to say, tiny, adorable Holly won the election and the only thing that stunk were my hand-drawn, hand-colored, pitiful skunks that laid atop my stinky desk.
But there was something so special about that experience for me.
I discovered some things about myself that I really liked.
I discovered that if I want something badly enough, I will do whatever I need to do to give myself a chance to win.
I discovered that when it doesn’t go my way, I’m okay.
And I discovered that my parents were always willing to help me find a way to complete a goal, even if I didn’t have the proper tools I thought I needed to run the race.
Nowadays, kids can click on their phone, look up hundreds of ideas and creations for any sort of project — science fair, book reports or even poster ideas for running for office — and simply select the one they like. They can copy it, paste it and then send it to their email address. Next, they just tweak it to fit their own idea of what it should say or look like and then even print it out or fax it somewhere from an app that is right there on their phone!
Honest to goodness, they can do pretty much anything and everything from their phone!
And, quite frankly, I don’t blame them!
I would’ve given anything for help with my elementary slogan, “Don’t Stink. Vote Spinks!” But “Stink” was the only thing I could think of that rhymed with “Spinks”.
Clearly, in today’s world, I could’ve had a much better slogan and it could’ve been easily printed out hundred times in mere minutes.
But I wouldn’t have that memory.
And I think if I had to choose, I would choose the memory.
What do you suppose would happen if we all woke up tomorrow morning only to discover that cell phones had become non-existent.
Seriously, how could we, at this point, make do without our cell phones?
When you’ve become so accustomed to having the world at your finger tips, it would be quite a task to rediscover the world by using old fashioned standards.
How would you easily reach your friends while away from your home?
How would you know where they were? What they were doing? Or who they were with?
How would you check your daily schedule? Your homework? Or facts about an author you were assigned to report on?
Would you know how to use the sun to determine about what time it was if you had no access to a watch or a clock?
What if you wanted to shop for Christmas gifts, but couldn’t drive all over town looking at different stores?
What if you wanted to invite a friend over, but didn’t know their phone number? How would you find that?
Or, let’s say you wanted to know what time a movie started, but couldn’t drive to the movie theater to check their movie board?
How else could you find out?
And pictures! Would you be willing to carry a camera around at all times or hang a big Polaroid camera around your neck just in case a priceless moment happened while in your presence?
My goodness, so much change has come with these smart phones. They certainly have made life easier, faster, more efficient and even greater for keeping in touch with family and friends.
I don’t know.
All I know is the best things in life aren’t those things you can find on your cell phone, online, in an app or on any social media outlet.
The best things in life are your people, your experiences and your memories.
These people and these life experiences are the things that help you “keep it real.”
And that, my friends, is invaluable.