It’s 7:28 a.m. and I 2)crack open my laptop and take a 3)crafty peek at my email. I’m not yet out of bed but it’s a simple task to reach across the 4)duvet and pull my 5)MacBook towards me. Emails checked, I click on to my Facebook page, in case I’m missing anything. That’s when I notice my 13-year-old son (and FB friend) is online and doing exactly the same thing. “Get off the damned computer and go downstairs for breakfast. NOW!!!!” I 6)message. Frantic footsteps rush past my bedroom door. The night before, as his food sat cooling on the dining room table and he sat in his bedroom, I had texted my middle son: “Dinner ready now! Get down here immediately!!!” Two minutes later, he was down the stairs and sitting at the table. Then there are the crucial messages I need to pass on to my eldest: “I’m working late tonight”; “Your rugby training is cancelled”; “Where’s the 10 7)quid you owe me?”; “Can you return my entire collection of 8)mugs, plates and glasses from your room, please??!!!” All sent by email because they have more chance of reaching his brain than actual, face-to-face human-being exchanges.What has happened to my family? We’re in danger of never speaking to one another again...
I’m not kidding myself that we’d normally be gathered round the dining table discussing anything meaningful—with teenage hormones raging and parental resentment 9)kicking in, I’ve become adept at translating 10)grunts. But I’ve suddenly realized these kids have sucked me into their hi-tech way of doing things. Now I’m communicating with them via message boards, phones and computers—just like their friends. Gone are the days when we 11)tripped over each other in the kitchen or12)slumped happily against each other on the sofa to watch a family film. I should thank my lucky stars we had our children before the age of cheap laptops and mobile phones for primary school children, otherwise we might never have known those times.
Fast forward to 2010 and, with four computers in the house, it’s usual to find all five Hathers in five separate rooms, clicking or 13)bashing away on the 14)PlayStation. And when you’re chatting by email to friends in New Zealand, it seems reasonable to 15)slip in a message to your child, sitting in front of his own computer a few yards away on the other side of the bedroom wall.
While we’re at it, why not use unlimited texts 16)courtesy of our phone contracts as a kind of house 17)intercom system? No more 18)bellowing up the stairs—our boys leap on any incoming message with an urgency last seen when they were in short trousers. 19)Crushing disappointment only hits when they realize the message is from Mum or Dad. I’ve even been known to send them a printed message in the television room, where we keep the wireless printer. As I work in my own office, I can still20)nag them in red 78-point Ariel Black 21)upper-case letters: “TURN OFF THE PS3 AND GO AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!”
But with laptops before breakfast, mobiles left switched on by bedsides and iPods stuck in ears as they fall asleep, I do worry my sons will soon lose the power of speech entirely. When I was a kid, I would spend hours gossiping with my mates, hanging out down the shops discussing clothes, boys and other urgent matters. My children are often happy to stay in their rooms and converse by keyboard. “Switch off the computer and get to bed,” I yell, as I get ready to turn off my own bedroom light. “22)Yep, I’m just saying goodnight to my mates,” they tell me.
Should I resist the inevitable march of progress? Is it enough to use proper grammar and spell out text words in their entirety—much to my children’s amusement—or should I be communicating only when I can 23)see the whites of their eyes? After all, I know I’m a 24)hypocrite when it comes to the lure of the laptop... I used to start every day gazing at my children; these days I open my Mac before I open their doors.
Lisa Warner is a parenting expert whose website Fink (Family Interaction Nurtures Kids) produces conversation 25)prompt 26)cards for teenagers. “The way we communicate is changing and your family can’t live in a bubble and ignore technology,” she says, “But kids learn how to communicate from their parents and we lose all sorts of things—crucial body language for example—by not talking face to face. By all means make use of the new methods of communicating but make sure you take time to talk about things other than the daily routine.”
It’s 27)falling on deaf ears in our house. The more gadgets that appear, the less we have to do with one another. The way they plan their social life has changed, too. Everything is left to the last minute because everyone can be reached immediately, no matter where they are. Hours of no visible or audible signs of communication with their friends are suddenly followed by a slammed front door as they react to an urgent message or email. “What time are you coming back????” I text after them as they disappear up the road. I leave my phone next to my pillow as I try to sleep—comforted only by a 28)bleep-bleep of a response and an eventual key in the door.
Last month, I asked my eldest son to email me his latest piece of English private study. It was a beautifully crafted piece of work based on 29)Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, in which my boy used words and phrases I could only dream coming from his mouth. It was thoughtful, moving and nothing like the usual 30)clipped language I get in his texts and emails. You see, it’s all there—it’s just lost inside the computer. With keyboards or phone 31)pads prompting most communication within the Hather house, it’s easy to forget we are still32)chatterboxes at heart. So I didn’t hold back when I told my son what I thought of his essay: “It’s really lovely,” I texted.