Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Sounds great right, your teen, tween, adolescent fails to answer a call from mom or dad, has a habit of deliberately ignoring phone calls from you while out and about, you now have the power to shut down their phone, no calls, no texts, no games. That’s exactly what the emerging market, mom created app Ignore No More does; if your child ignores a call from a parent, you enter a quick code and the phone goes dead, save 911 and the ability to call the parent who can unlock the phone. A dream come true for any parent raising a child in the digital age; at least that was the thinking of one frustrated, former military mom who had one day had it with her 17 year olds annoying consistency in never answering his phone, when all she needed was for him to “let their poor little dog out.”  But is that really the best solution to handling the situation; is creating an app to disable their phone the best way to reach them, get your point across, to teach the responsibility we believe we are trying to impart by doing so, the phone etiquette, the good habits or simply never to ignore your parents? They say necessity is the mother of invention, yet it seems this invention is the mother of necessity in more ways than one.  Chiefly a necessity to either create new ways and means by which to nag the people in our lives to death or the necessity to return to using other tools in our parental, planning, organizational arsenals; rather than create new technology, new apparatuses only adding to the problem of over-gadget-ed people in an over gadget-ed society beyond electronic kitchen utensils that do everything, who can’t manage all this technology, who buy ever increasingly expensive appliances because they all have computers in them. Refrigerators that now catalog the contents they contain, can even order more of routine items for your household via your local store, toasters that are currently smarter than we are, remote controls for TVs, music players, whole home entertainment systems even a rocket scientist can’t operate, cameras than can be swallowed, computer chips able to fit inside the body, just under the skin and a mother who can only manage her son by disabling his phone.   

 Others will say what is the real cost, the app itself is cheap, $1.99 to download, or what is the cost compared to a little shred of sanity, a small increase in that sanity allowing us to be a slightly less irritable, to feel like we have some control over our annoying teen, the ability to take charge of a problem? However the true cost is reinforcing the bad habits we wish wholeheartedly our boss, our coworkers, our employees, business partners, acquaintances and friends would lose in a hurry. The same habits bringing Blackberries to the dinner table, and no, I don’t mean the food, causing work e-mails to intrude on bedtime stories and family time, have almost lead to near tragedies as parents come forward talking about leaving their young children alone in a bathtub because their phone, their i-pad went off with a message alert, they wanted to answer one more message, that means our smart phones are pushing into our beds, our sleeping space, not to mention our sleep time in a constantly sleep deprived nation, are the same traits we are teaching our kids. When you employ apps like this you directly teach them to be victims of the modern era even more than they already are, demonstrating they always have to be on, a slave to their devices, they always have to answer whoever calls; exactly what we don’t want them to learn, they can’t turn off, can’t turn it off. They simultaneously aren’t learning the boundaries and limits to balance their lives and their technology, manage their technology; unfortunately, similar to the rest of us non-digital natives, their technology ends up managing them. Also, we are sending incredibly mixed messages to kids no doubt having told them in the past not to call us repeatedly over frivolous matters, asking can they have this, can they do this, maybe while you’re at work or concerned about using the last minutes on your phone before next month’s allotment comes in, if we then tell them never ignore a call from me; nearly every parent of a teen with a cellphone engages in this battle too, getting their kids to get their head out of the texts, the chat with friends and actually talk to you, to sit at the dinner table, participate in a family function/activity sans the gadget, just confusing them when we turn around and say, if I call you better answer. Further no one appreciates getting a call from a coworker, boss, employee, less than at an inopportune moment say sitting down to enjoy dinner, alone time with a spouse, god forbid right before, in the middle of making love, getting in the shower, trying to get out the door in the morning, but the calls that didn’t have to be made, because the one making them should be able to come to a decision themselves in the case of the employee, could have discussed item X with you before you left the office, in the case of your boss, table it until the following day during business hours in the case of your coworker, business partner. Or worse, they have called entirely the wrong person to deal with their issue, and why would we want to teach those identical, driving us all crazy behaviors to our kids?

Speaking of which, this particular parent problem indicates a significant parent failure to parent correctly, to establish, what may be obvious to you, not so obvious to them; their phone is a privilege not a right and with that privilege comes specific responsibilities. Sharon Standifird failed, mirroring a lot of parents today, to lay down ground rules before giving her son the privilege, the phone, one of which being, you must answer when I call. Far from teaching responsibility, it actually erodes it; if your child isn’t capable of picking up their phone when they get a call, notice who is calling, their mother/father is calling, then they are probably too young, too irresponsible to be in possession of one. Going back to her scenario behind a soon to be widely popular app, if all she wanted was for her son to let the dog out, assuming he’s home at 17, even if it took years to develop said app and he was thus closer to 13, shouldn’t he know he should let the dog out, that it’s been cooped up all day with no bathroom break?  Let’s also assume, only for a moment, what happens in a lot of households happened in hers: he begged for a puppy around age 8, she got him one and has ultimately become its primary caregiver ever since, filling in when he forgot to feed, water, let out/walk “little” Rover; shouldn’t he by now have learned to let the dag-on dog out?  Considering he’s got a year of high of high school left and will soon be off to college, don’t you think as a parent it’s time he mastered the basic responsibility of a pet; perhaps in the latter event, it would be a good idea to let him learn what happens when you forget to let them out, make him clean up the mess. If he was not at home, you wanted him to drop what he was doing, possibly at the library studying, working to get the grades you demand he get, leave his friend’s house and the school project he is diligently working on, abandon the after school activity both keeping him out of trouble and he’s been going to all year, for years on days X,Y and Z, just having fun with friends after school when he as no homework, to come home solely to let the dog out?  Returning to our comments on planning, problem solving and organization, how does the dog usually get out; are you admitting to the entirety of the American public, people across the globe seeing news footage you need to go home at the exact time daily to let your dog out because your 17 year old can’t be trusted to do so, no one in the house planned ahead to ensure someone would be home to perform the task? God we hope not; still stranger things have been proven reality. Sadly is this an example of a former military mom who doesn’t know when to turn off the army, whichever service branch and simply be mom, who doesn’t know how to function where everything around them is not military organized, can’t cope when their kids don’t follow directions like your unit follows orders? Here’s a hint they are your kids not your platoon, this is your household not an army base, home should be a place of peace, relaxation, safety, comfort not a well-oiled machine driven by a relentless schedule and primed for battle .

Contrary to the above, maybe feeding into it depending on which way you look at it, cellphones, instant communication has become an excuse for poor planning, poorer parenting, often encouraging helicopter parents taking over and micromanagement reaching ever increasing new heights; is Ms. Standifird going to be one of these parents profiled on talk shows a-la Dr. Phil who calls their kid to wake them up for class while at college, go over their classes, schedule for tests, final exams, projects instead of letting him figure out time management on his own, incur the consequences for mistakes? Is a version of the above pattern going to trail him into work, his mom questioning performance reviews, questioning a lack of promotion, asking questions of his boss she has no right to ask?  GPS available in phones, allowing us to know where our kids are at all times has fostered one of the following issues, hyper vigilant questions about why were you in such and such area, on such and such street if they only went to a friend’s house, if they were only at the library, even following a child who went exactly where they said they were going to, were there exactly how long they indicated they would be and came home, met you at an agreed upon place. Teen forced to explain walking around the back, into an alley or adjacent space to the local library because of sidewalk construction and where the city bus dropped them off, detailing friend stopped at store to pick up snack or supplies for the school project they were to work on, teen having been a good kid, not done anything wrong, obeyed the rules feeling parent doesn’t trust them in a way they clearly earned, feels crowded, smothered asking for the “typical teenage rebellion” we either dread, refuse to tolerate. Or, parents today turn their children loose with their phones not asking important questions about where they are going, who they are going with and mandating when to be home, knowing they can just call their kid on their phone get a GPS reading of where, at least their phone was, asking questions if needed; both adding unwanted drama to everyone’s life. Next, Ignore no more is predicated on the idea teens would find it unpleasant, irritating to be unable to text, play games or access the internet from said phone; you may find your teen could care less about their dead phone because now you can’t keep bothering them, they never get your request to come home now, asking where they are, wanting them to pick up item X, would otherwise inform you if they were running late, decided to stop on the way home for fast food or got stuck in traffic behind an accident, but if you’re going to do that to their phone well, why should I make the effort? Others could easily forget that though the phone is dead they can still call you resulting in another argument, lecture, removal of phone privileges for something you initiated.  Bringing us to another potential problem with the popular solution, kids will find a way to override the block, when with friends whose parents don’t use the app, use their phone, if they want something bad enough go to a computer café and use that, completely undermining the purpose and the point leaving you right back where you started.                         

Continuing, her app assumes 2 things not an automatic given, A- the phone you bought your child is capable of supporting the app being discussed; besides its limited availability exclusively to Android devices, older phones gotten used may not be compatible with it, phones meant for younger children housing few buttons and a feature to preprogram numbers such as mom/dad, manufactures feature including 911 won’t work apps at all, never mind Ignore No More. Worth mentioning too, most parents aren’t as tech savvy as she is; nor does technology always work as advertised, heck, half the time, not as designed. Combine that with the growing litany of e-mail addresses, passwords and pin numbers already foisted on us to remember and situation goes pretty much as follows; teen has called you back, you’ve settled the problem of they were fishing it out of their pocket, purse, left it somewhere and had to find it, yet you can’t remember the code to unlock it, you want to activate the feature to show teen you’re serious and you can’t remember the code to input, you have inputted the code, the correct code and the phone still will not unlock or lock rendering it or the app useless. Now in scene 1 you are confronted with an angry teen who thinks you were being unreasonable in the first place, a currently worthless, inoperable phone requiring you tinker with it to get it properly functional or take it somewhere for repair, added instruction on how to better operate the app; in scene 2 you could not block your teen’s phone, the teen thinks you were bluffing, is taking you less seriously than before.  A lot of trouble for something supposed to solve a problem, an issue better solved by taking the phone away for a period of time, increased with the number of offenses, altogether if they refuse to change behavior, strategy that should have been utilized in the first place sans the drama. B- it assumes the parent is the one who bought the cellphone, for the purpose of this explanation excluding other relatives aunts, uncles, grandparents who, for the record may take on the bill for a device they purchased, and not the teen child with a job, who saved for their own phone and pays that bill all on their own giving the parent no right to place such an app on their property. Younger kids could easily gain a series of odd jobs throughout the year to afford simple phone choices like Tracfone, Go phone, which have pay as you go options or very low monthly costs ($7-10), obtained by mowing lawns in summer, raking leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in winter. Working ages too vary by state, some allow adolescents to work as young as 14 with parent permission, there are special youth programs via schools and communities they can get involved in, giving work experience, job, life skills they will use in the fully adult world and minimum wage dollars to boot, others let children work at 15, national working age minimum16. Even if your child receives an allowance for doing household chores, bought and pays for it that way, suddenly forcing the app on them or withdrawing your permission for them to work, removing their allowance only creates a needless and ineffective power struggle; screams hypocrisy to your teen because the money received in an allowance is based on did they do the work, the quality of said work not what they choose to spend it on, absent things violating established family values i.e. skimpy clothes, profane music. Realities exacerbated if you forfeit their permission to work an actual job, because you signed them up for the program, mandated they get one to “learn the value of a dollar,” you got tired of paying for luxury items they seemed to be taking for granted, turning around and saying no you can’t work because you won’t let me stalk your every move? Still to be heard the chorus not under my roof; if you live in my house you will do this and you will not do that, sound familiar? Be careful armed with the ability to work you may just be shoving them out from under your roof that much faster, willing to bunk with friends , consider getting their own place not to put up with you all over a phone app; do you seriously want to, need to go there?        

On the flip side of kids nonchalantly ignoring their parents, treating it as no big deal, forgotten to parents, older people, those who do not own cellphones is the number of places, mounting by the day, demanding you turn off your phone when you enter, libraries, movie theaters, concerts exc.; moreover we’ve all had at least one of these hatred experiences  being in a library known for quiet, the ability to get things done in peace and someone’s phone goes off, not a standard ring, even a jazz or classical tune but blasting anything from decades old Billie Jean to the latest rap songs containing more cuss words than you knew existed, causing us to snap our heads up shattering our concentration on whatever we were doing, glaring in the direction of the offensive  sound wanting to do bodily harm to the person who invented the concept of a ring tone. It is common knowledge people don’t go to the movies almost at all anymore, a CBS Sunday Morning commentator expounds on exactly why; beyond exorbitant ticket and concession prices, the ability to get the latest movies on demand, on DVD or streamed/downloaded from the internet, the advent of huge screen TV’s meant to simulate theater experience only with the opportunity to curl up in your PJ’s, pause for bathroom breaks, former movie goers can no longer stand their fellow audience members. Members who have graduated from kicking seats, throwing food and talking back to the screen to seemingly ignoring the feature altogether in favor of texting, talking on their phone, annoying fellow viewers with the lights from their phones, loud voices and distracting talking having nothing to do with the action on screen; so much so one movie house in Standifird’s home state of Texas no less, enacted a new policy ejecting people who commit the above offenses. True to the current day and age the phenomenon has gotten so bad one Philharmonic conductor in New York had to stop his performance because of an i-phone alert that would not shut up; though the offender had turned their phone off, the alerts for texts, messages was still going strong. How that relates to our Ignore No More mom, if you give your child the freedom to go places with minimal restriction, they may have turned their phone off to abide by establishment rules, places with a lot of noise concerts, busy restaurants mean they may not hear your call, the alternative of placing the phone on vibrate may not work in ultra-quiet situations and doesn’t tackle the I didn’t hear it problem. Unknown to the public is if Standifird’s 17 year old has his license or was using his mother’s, the family car on the day she had had enough and made the firm decision to create an app to rectify her problem, but surely other parents will use this app conveniently forgetting their child could be driving and not answering because you along with every other PSA on television has told them not to text, not to talk and drive. Worse they look over at their phone see it’s you, remembering your admonishments about what will get their phone take away answer it and between the 2 of you, you’ve caused a major accident, possibly the death of your own child or someone else’s all over asking if they remembered to put the garbage out or they are 5 minutes late returning home you’re worried, must know where they are this instant. And yes apps are currently available to tell callers, texters the phone is in motion, the person is probably driving, hints they are not answering, maybe shifting you directly to voicemail, a standard practice when the phone is off, but parents have to first know it’s an option, second probably pay for it and thirdly put it on their child’s phone, too much time, tech savvy for busy parents in a harried world until tragedy strikes.          

Prompting us to really need to think about how we use our phones; ask ourselves how important is what we need to say to our child, when the last time we called, what did they tell us when we discussed them going out about when they would return, what their plans were. Ask yourself are you a helicopter parent, are you a worry wart compulsively checking up on them less because of new stories on missing children, teens, the horrors of drugs and more because you can’t accept yes, they are that old, it is time for this independence, they are only X years from college, not sure what to do with yourself since they no longer need the level of attention, energy they once did. Remembering while safety is always a factor, not pressing the panic button, automatically going to the worst conclusion, the most horrible scenario just because they didn’t answer. They may have turned their phone off of their own accord because of a fight with a friend, in today’s world of cyber bullying, be purposefully ignoring their phone to distance themselves from taunts, an obsessive boyfriend, someone they just don’t feel like talking to right now who isn’t you. Being upset about the fight they had, the person who can’t seem to give them space, perhaps they know better than to answer their phone knowing it’s you because they are likely to begin the call by screaming what, which will get them a “you don’t talk to me like that” lecture, the last thing they need at the moment. Odds are they too feel pressured by technology, always wondering what the parent on the other end of their phone wants, seeing the word mom in the who’s calling section and immediately wondering what they did wrong, what they are going to have to pick up this time or why they are being summoned home NOW! Why do we think those feelings only apply to us and why do we again feel the need to transfer them to our kids, all valid questions we should be answering before being enthralled with a new app.