When my kids were younger (as in, last year), I had the whole technology thing totally under control.
My daughter had an email account, but it was primarily for keeping in touch with out of town relatives and camp friends. Because she didn’t have a cell phone or an iPad or any kind of personal electronic device, she only checked her email a few times a week from the family computer in our kitchen.
It sounds so quaint now, but my biggest problem was limiting the number of TV shows they watched after school each day. Enter: the Kindle.
For her eleventh birthday in May, I bought my daughter a Kindle Fire. I thought it was a great compromise – she would have something to read books on at camp and to watch movies and play games on during long plane rides, but it has no texting, no phone, and no camera or video camera, so she wouldn’t be able to turn into one of those kids who look like they have tablets where their noses used to be. And it worked, at least at first. You should have seen me, all proud of myself for figuring out a way to satisfy everyone without getting sucked into the teenager technology vortex.
But then she came home from sleepaway camp this summer all whine-y about Instagram and how everyone has one and none of her camp friends check email, they’re all on Instagram and she’s so left out and it’s the only way to stay in touch with her friends and they all live so far away and it’s not fair.
Not fair, because last year, I wouldn’t let her get an Instagram account. I was worried about people leaving negative comments on her posts, or her feeling like she’d have to document every minute of her day instead of actually living it, or that she’d start to constantly crave instant feedback for everything she did. But I’d had a slight change of heart over the summer – in talking to my friends and the parents of her friends, it did seem that everyone really did have an Instagram account, and instead of the negative force I’d made it out to be, it seemed like it was actually kind of fun. Besides, I wanted one, too. So we signed up at the exact same time, and a month later I think I have something like seven followers, while she has two hundred and seventy.
The problem with Instagram – that I didn’t know at the time that I agreed to it – is that it’s a gateway drug. It’s like the marijuana of technology apps. Aside from the fact that my daughter is completely addicted to it, it’s opened the door to a whole new host of things she never even knew about, and she’s craving them all.
Every day there’s a new plea for Snapchat or Vine or Kik or whatever else she’s learning about from the three hundred plus school friends and camp friends and camp counselors that she’s following on Instagram. And now that I’ve said yes to one of them, it’s hard to come up with a rationale for saying no to the others. So I resort to saying, let me look into it, and then I cross my fingers and wish on a shooting star that she’ll just forget about it. So far, that strategy’s working out really well for me.
As it turns out, the Kindle is doing me no favors here. Most of my friends make their kids leave their cell phones or iPads outside their bedrooms at night so that they know their kids are actually going to sleep and not texting or iChatting or Instagramming. But because all of my daughter’s books are on her Kindle, and because she reads at night before bed, I can’t require this of her. So for all I know, she’s Instagramming until midnight, and I’m too damn tired to get up and check. I could make her stop reading and hand the thing over every night, but that kind of goes against everything I’ve been taught as a parent. Or I could just trust her when she says she’s really only reading, but that kind of goes against everything I know about being eleven.
Last night, as I sat in her room while she plied me with requests for new, better apps that will let her stay in touch with her friends in new, better ways, I guess I got a look on my face, because my daughter said I looked sad.
“What’s wrong,” she asked me.
“It’s just so hard being a parent,” I told her. “You never know what the right thing is to do.”
“Yeah,” she said. And then she smiled at me and batted her eyelashes, and asked, “so can I get a Kik account, or what?”