Illustration by Kristina Micotti
With Georgia now in middle school, after-school logistics made getting her a phone unavoidable. We are now—God help us—a complete iFamily.
When presented with the long-coveted device for her tenth birthday, Georgia got lots of texts from extended family congratulating her and letting her know their contact information.
Within 24 hours, Georgia and her cousin Olivia had made a trailer for a buddy flick about an athlete (Olivia) and a pop star (Georgia); watched episodes of an Australian kids’ TV series; and texted me angry emojis to express her displeasure over my unjust parental decisions, like not letting her drink Mountain Dew.
She searched online for the most popular British candy and used her birthday money to buy a large selection, so that she and her friend could make a YouTube video reviewing them. She made a trailer for a Bollywood film with five friends. She watched approximately 400 puppy and kitten videos.
Here’s what she has not done with the phone: made a phone call. When she wants to tell me something too long for a text, she actually makes a video of herself telling me what she wants me to know, then sends the video to me.
I avoid phone calls as much as the next digitally savvy person, but here’s the difference: I know how to use the phone. My kids? Not so much. Making a phone call is not a skill you feel the need to teach a child, beyond the dialing. But put a kid on the phone without training, and you’ll be amazed at how far from intuitive telephone conventions are.
Initiating a phone conversation is just one of so many basic life skills my kids have somehow come very far without honing. When I was Georgia’s age, I was taking the bus across the city by myself. Georgia was worried she wouldn’t be able to find her way home from her aunt’s house five blocks away. (I forced her to give it a try and tracked her progress—just in case—via a locator app installed on her phone.)
I also discovered that Georgia didn’t know how to pay a cashier. She just handed over cash and walked away without any change.
I have a friend whose 17-year-old daughter called her from a parking lot several miles away. There were no spots, she told her mom, and she wanted to know what to do.
This is what happens when you accompany kids everywhere and handle all of the transactions. When we do it for them, they have no chance to build confidence in their own ability to navigate the world.
Now I’ve started to pay attention to the basic life skills my kids might be missing. At least I can take comfort knowing that, should we fail to teach them something important before we send them off to college, they can learn it by watching how-to videos on YouTube.