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The Hazards of Parenting in the Digital Age

by Thought Starters

For those of you who subscribe to my monthly email newsletter, you may know that my first born started secondary college this year. With high school comes the adventure to catch a bus to school each day. With this adventure comes the inevitable conversation about whether he needs a mobile phone. After discussing this while camping with a close friend and her family over summer, we came to the same conclusion.

I value her opinion and she shares many of my philosophies on parenting and also had her boy starting secondary college this year. We agreed they don’t really ‘need’ a mobile phone. After all, we survived high school without one! However, it is convenient for me to communicate my movements, and those of his younger brother’s, and amaysim offers a very competitive $10 monthly rate for unlimited calls and messages. So he got my old iPhone and his own number.

For those of you who’ve ever tried to reach me, you’ll know the best way to catch me is via text messaging. I always have my phone on silent, because I spend most of my days either with clients, writing or with loved ones and so do not want the sound of a phone ringing. Think Bespoke has a landline phone service listed on the website which is answered within 3 rings and I generally return calls within 12-24 hours. If I see the call coming through I also send a tailored text advising I’ve seen the call and will call back ASAP. This system has worked for over 10 years.

Until now.

Week one of secondary school and Master 12’s enjoying his new found freedom, and his phone. The school hasn’t quite bedded down the mobile phone rules yet (this came in Week 3), so I’m seeing missed calls from him from time to time during the day. This feels strange as I am used to waving my cherubs off in the morning and starting my work day, which is clear of mother duties until I greet them again at the end of the day. I return calls as soon as I can and, if I see the call coming through and can not answer, will always send a text explaining my movements. In some ways it feels strange to be texting my son and receiving mobile phone calls from him! One of my colleagues, who has two daughters at secondary school, told me I should be happy he wants to call me and to enjoy it while I can. This is a new experience for me, so I’m open to changing my point of view.

And then Master 12 complains.

“Mum. It’s really annoying that when I ring you, you never answer your phone.” I sit with this complaint for a week or so. Uninterrupted thoughts and being in my flow are very important to me. The sound of a mobile phone ringing is rude when I am with a client and breaks my concentration when I am writing. This is a very real dilemma for me. At the same time I am feeling very disconnected from Master 12’s high school experience. It’s just like the first term Prep experience all over again, but worse. I am not at the school, I haven’t met his teachers, I can not visualise more than one of his class mates and it feels really strange. There is a special connection we all have with our first born, and I was feeling lost.

And then the solution was provided by a colleague of mine. As you’ve been reading this you may have been thinking to yourself that the solution was really quite obvious. All I needed to do was add his mobile phone number as a ‘favourite’ on my mobile phone and assign a special ring to his number so I knew when he was ringing.

So I did. And it worked.

Until I was asked to guest speak at a Girls in Tech Melbourne event.

As I sat waiting for my turn to speak at the lectern to the 120+ audience of Girls in Technology, it occurred to me that, while my mobile phone was on silent, if Master 12 called me, it may ring. I played around with the settings and tried to quickly find the do not disturb button and then decided the chances of him calling during my 5 minute set were highly unlikely.

And guess what happened?

He called.

About 3 minutes in.

The person who was sitting beside the seat where I’d left my phone, right at the front of the room, did what she could to turn the ring off.

There were about 4 rings.

I recognised the special ring tone.

And so there, in that moment, I acknowledged to everyone in the room that I was the mother of a Year 7 boy and learning to navigate the hazards of the digital age.

For those of you who’ve reached out to me on Instagram to share your own experiences about managing mobile phones and technology with your children, I am very grateful to read your perspectives. I find this parenting gig to be a steep learning curve. Just when you feel like you have a game plan that’s working, the goal posts seem to change! If you are a parent of high schoolers, I’d love to hear your experiences and tips for navigating the hazards of parenting in the digital age.

Karen Hollenbach, LinkedIn Expert Consultant, Educator & Mentor

Karen Hollenbach, LinkedIn Expert Consultant, Educator & Mentor

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