Head tilted down, outstretched palm holding cell phone, eyes glued to the screen – so lives Generation Z: the digital natives, the screen-obsessed.
As a baby boomer parent, I see my offspring and their peers perpetually stationed in that pose. To me, the pose embodies the lifestyle of teen-aged postural clones whose eye contact and interactions are reserved for their hand-held devices. Are verbal conversations, interpersonal greeting rituals, and person to person time becoming obsolete? Did I waste my time trying to teach my children such old-fashioned concepts as manners, meal time interaction, and thank you note writing?
My phone calls go straight to voice mail. My words hang ignored in the air during teenage transit time. If I am noticed, I might get a reply to my text. Back in my day . . .
Well, I made different attempts to get privacy. I stormed off to my room. Or I stretched the phone cord beyond it’s curly maximum to sit behind a door. I went outside, confident that my mother would not follow me there. In my younger days, I had fun outside playing in the neighborhood or climbing a tree. Later, I would ride bike or unicycle – or sit in the yard with a friend. My teenage years may have been similarly self-absorbed, but not insulated behind a screen. In fact, we were limited to one hour of television per day – the only screen option in those days.
Life is different now. This mom used to limit screen time, but that ended when computers were needed for homework. When we added texting to our cell phone service, a much belated change compared to my children’s peers, I reviewed the monthly usage to check my children’s compliance with phone curfew limits. After we became a smart phone family last year, even limiting my own screen time seemed challenging, let alone monitoring my offspring’s. Surrendering to technology. Parental failure. Allowing my older teenagers to moderate themselves. Enabler of screen obsessions. Perhaps all of the above.
But my job remains the same even when so much else in the world changes: to love my children and commmunicate that to them. So I keep reaching out to my Generation Z, digital natives – the ones I love and feed.
I threaten to Snapchat or Instagram for visual contact with my precious teenagers, using absurd mispronunciations to emphasize my technological impairment:
“I’m going to Snappychatty you, so I can see you.”
“Why don’t you Instagrammy that to me?” (Late adopter of technology that I am, of course I don’t have Instagram. But I can joke about it anyway.)
Their groans are my reward. Ahhhh . . . I can still try to make them laugh.
[Originally posted July 2015]