“Should Parents Check Their Text Messages at the Movies?” and Similar 2010 Parenting Questions

In the past 24 hours, I’ve found myself confronted with two parenting questions that weren’t questions when I was the same age as my kids.  And they got me thinking.

Last night, Mrs. Spidey told me that a few parents of our kids’ summer camp mates had complained that not enough photos were posted on the camp’s website.  Being a bit more old school, I thought about the years I went to summer camp (1974-1981), during which the only contact with the outside world was USPS mail that came once a day.  I saw and talked to my parents at visiting day halfway through my 8 weeks at camp.  No one ever asked “How come there aren’t more photos on the camp website?”

Then earlier today, on the Japers’ Rink Off-Topic Thread, one of the regulars sent through a note from inside a movie theater telling that he had made it in before the movie started.  He was criticized (nicely) for texting from inside the theater.  I agreed, but I noted that I was torn as a parent, because one of my kids might be texting because they were hurt or locked out of the house.  When I posted that thought several jumped in a said I was wrong and pointed out that before texting parents went to movies and the world didn’t end.  “Should parents check their text messages at the movies?” wasn’t asked back in the day.

The reason these questions are relevant and get asked is because times have changed and our expectations have changed along with them.  In 1976, my parents couldn’t get photos of me at camp.  They didn’t even think to ask “How come I can’t see my kid more often?”  In 1980, parents couldn’t be reached inside a movie theater unless you called the theater itself.  Expectations have changed and new questions get asked.  Just because we were satisfied the way things were, doesn’t mean we should be satisfied keeping things that way.

I came up with five other 2010 parenting questions to consider that fall into the same bucket:

  1. Why did you get an 88 on your test today? With immediate online grade posting, we parents are more informed than ever.  Our parents learned of grades only when we brought tests home.
  2. Why does it take so long for your teacher to respond to my email? Our parents communicated with teachers twice a year at parent-teacher conferences.
  3. What store should Aunt Jenny get you a gift card from for your birthday? Gift cards have replaced cash and checks as presents.
  4. Why doesn’t little Bobby going to the library to do research? The Internet has ended the practice of going to the library to meet girls for research.  It is faster and more convenient.
  5. Why didn’t you tell me you were going from the mall to Taco Bell? Kids who are old enough to go to the mall, usually have a phone and can text or call.

In all five of these examples, there is an understanding that expectations have changed from the past.  I distinguish this from other questions such as “Why isn’t little Susie buckled into her car seat?”  Yes, we all survived no car seat or a flimsy car seat, but that doesn’t mean someone would argue it’s OK to keep Susie out of her car seat.

However, I can easily see someone who thinks it was “good enough” back in the day and answers back:

  1. You really need to check your kid’s grades online every day?  When my kids were young we kept track of his test scores, but we’re OK not knowing their final grade until we got the report card.
  2. Why should the teacher respond to you so quickly?  They have parent-teacher conferences, don’t they?
  3. Isn’t it easier for Aunt Jenny just to send a check?
  4. Learning how to do library research is a critical skill.  Don’t let Bobby take the easy way out with the Internet.
  5. You don’t need to know where he is always.  What did you do before mobile phones?

All these responses are true.  But they are based in an earlier reality.  To tell me that I don’t need to talk to the teacher between parent-teacher conferences ignores the fact that using email or voice mail makes the communications easier and faster.  I can communicate with teachers outside of conferences, because I can.  Why shouldn’t I?  Didn’t my parents want to know more about my education?  Sure they did, but it just wasn’t done.  Well – it is done now.

So when I hear from a fellow Japers’ Rink poster that I should check not my text messages during a movie ever, I respectfully disagree.  I check because I can. I don’t have to wait until I get home to find out there is a problem, so I don’t.  If the momentary flash of light bothers you, I apologize.  I will not write texts or get on the phone during a movie.  If I need to do either, I’ll stand up and walk out.

I’m not living in 1980.  This is 2010, and I check to see if my child needs me because I can.


4 Responses to “Should Parents Check Their Text Messages at the Movies?” and Similar 2010 Parenting Questions

  1. CP2Devil says:

    I disagree with your premise. I would argue that the use of technology depends on the context of the situation and what the purpose for using the technology is.

    If, as a parent, you are using the technology to help your child gain the skills they need in order to be a well adjusted adult, then using a technology is appropriate and warranted. However, if using such technology hampers the child’s ability to grow, develop new skills and become an independent human being then using it due only to its availability and/or ease of use only harms the child in the long run.

    I want to respond specifically to three types of technology use you brought up in your post.

    1. Your use of a cell phone in a movie can be distracting to the other patrons. It is why prior to a movie being shown in most theaters in this country there are now messages about turning off your phone. If you can’t take turning your phone off for a couple of hours for whatever the reason then don’t go to the movies. If your child is hurt I would assume they are able to contact help if you are unavailable or they are old enough to know what to do because you taught them well. If it is a true emergency they should be calling 911 instead of you anyway. If they are locked out of the house then they can either find an alternative to going home or wait until you arrive back at home after the movie.

    2. This relates to example question #2 in the post. Just because you can e-mail a teacher (or anyone else for that matter) that doesn’t mean you should in all circumstances. Is such an e-mail truly necessary? For example, if your child did poorly on a test, should you immediately e-mail the teacher asking questions about the test itself or why your child did poorly on the test? I would argue the answer is no. You should first ask your child what happened, what did they find difficult about the test, how much did they actually study, etc. Their response will then lead to the next logical step. If some sort of contact is needed it might be more appropriate for the student to be the person contacting the teacher since they should be learning how to communicate with teachers, and in the future bosses, when they have issues to deal with.

    3. This relates to example question #4 in the post. As for the library and research, it again depends on the circumstance. Issues such as the subject matter, level of depth required, and research skills are being taught all enter the equation. Not all information on all subject matter is readily available online. As times goes on this is becoming less of an issue. However, there are still records and information that can’t be found over the internet. Therefore it may be useful to go to the library to find information in the form of a book, microforms, or older public records that can’t be found online.

    Finally, the expectations you mention are those of you (and I’d add many others), but whether those expectations are for society as a whole is a whole other matter. In addition, you set up a logical fallacy. You imply that anyone who argues against your position is some sort of luddite or longs for a nostalgic past. I am neither, yet disagree with you on your assertions. I wholeheartedly endorse the use of technology where appropriate and find that there are a large number of advantages to living in 2010 as opposed to 1980. However, as is the case throughout history, there are unintended consequences from technology that wind up harming individuals and society as a whole, especially when such technology is not used responsibly.

    Your statement that “I check to see if my child needs me because I can.” is an interesting one. I pose that the question for a parent should instead be, “Do I truly need to check on my child in this instance?” or “Have I taught my child how to handle this situation so that they don’t need me?” Isn’t that the true goal of parenting?

    • Andy Mayer says:

      Thanks very much for the insight full note. In each instance I cite in the post, there is an implicit matter of judgment and prudence. With that I agree.

      Your comment about when to reach out to teachers is absolutely correct, and you describe a process my wife and I go through. Other parents may call a teacher directly, but we deal with our kids first. My point, however, is that we no longer have to wait for an October conference to raise questions about something that happened in September. Therefore we don’t.

      Your comment about needing to go to the library at some point is also correct. Presupposing that’s the only place to go, as you and I did as kids, is wrong.

      As far as checking texts in the theater, I put forward two additional thoughts in response. First, we do train our kids to be self-sufficient. They are not so reliant on us that they have to call each time before taking any steps. Second, and more importantly, as concerned as I am about others’ comfort and enjoyment in a movie theater, my kids health and well-being comes first. Sorry. In my post, I wrote that I wouldn’t text back or get on the phone in the theater. I do respect your ability to watch a movie. But, I want to know if there is a problem with my kids as soon as I can, and they are more important to me than anything.

      I think it’s important in these types of conversations not to jump to conclusions or make assumptions. Think about the many possible reasons someone could be checking a text. Sick parent? Pregnant wife? Job interview? Offer on a house? There are many others. To peer at a message for a few seconds to know whether or not to step out and return the text would seem ok to me.

      • SmallZ827 says:

        I suppose the easiest response to “Sick Parent?…etc.” is that if there is something in one’s life that is likely to demand one’s immediate and full attention within the next two hours, one should probably not be at the movies anyway. I am willing to assume that very rarely are the people who are checking their phone during a movie actually burdened by something thoroughly important, because so very rarely (almost never) have I seen someone actually get up and leave to deal with whatever important thing they were checking up on.

      • CP2Devil says:

        Thanks for clarifying. I think I made the assumption that “judgment and prudence” wasn’t implied, mainly based on the “because I can” statement at the end. It sounds like in reality we are much closer in agreement than it initially appeared to me. As a matter of fact, I don’t see any disagreement, except on the initial issue that brought this all about.

        I’m fine with people who leave their phones on vibrate in their pocket, purse, etc. As long as I don’t hear/see the phone I don’t care. It’s funny that you mentioned sick parent as one of your examples .I was in that position myself recently and debated going to the theater. I realized that there was nothing I was going to be able to do about their situation even if I got a call, so I went to the movie. Had I felt differently I would not have gone to the movie. This seems to be the one area we actually do have a disagreement albeit an extremely minor one.

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