BY JBH

10.28.2013

Sneaky Technology Behavior

Janell Burley Hofmann, October 28, 2013
askjanellcolumn

Dear Janell

Much like you, I gave my son a computer as a gift for his fifteenth birthday. I work in the technology field and over the years I have taught my son how to use computers with complete fluency. But recently, he has started to hide it from me. Now, when I walk into his bedroom, he will turn the screen around on his computer or use the keypad to close the windows. He is being sneaky and I don’t know what to do. I feel totally helpless because I gave him all of this technology and taught him how to use it and now it’s out of my control. Is there anything I can do?

Thank you for any help you can provide,

Unsure

janswer

Hi Unsure,

When I was about your son’s age, I had the privilege of having my very own phone in my bedroom. I lived in a humble home with a busy and chaotic family. Each night, after homework and athletic practices were through, I would retreat to my corner of the house and curl up with my well loved comforter and talk on the phone with abandon. I was a social girl. I loved my friends. I loved boys. I wasn’t a bit shy and could always find a way to carry on and on with anyone I rang. This was the early nineties, and during the previous Christmas my parents gave me one of those really cool phones where you can see the inner workings of the wires, the ringer and see it light up along the sides when someone called.  I wanted it badly. And since there was no online searching and shopping, I know they had to work to find it for me. I loved this phone.

One night, I was carrying on curled up in my bed with the phone draped across the rug, with an older boy I had recently taken a strong liking to. It was getting late. My mother, always on it, called over the stairs once or twice, “Janell! It’s time to hang up. Please get off the phone!” I heard her, but I openly ignored her. I knew all about our arrangement for a phone curfew of nine o’clock each night and I knew that deadline had passed. I continued chatting, pressing my luck and loving it. She picked up the kitchen receiver and spoke into the phone, “Janell, seriously. Now. Hang up.” I was too casual – cocky even – fully aware that the boy on the other end now knew I lived in a world with limits, “Ok, Mom.” The next few minutes passed, but each second ticked heavier than the last as the risk filled me with lightning. I wouldn’t quit. I was flirty and coy, “It’s no big deal. My parents don’t really care.” Suddenly, I heard footsteps barrel up over the stairs and my bedroom door flew open. My father, who had been silent during my whole arrogant charade, bust in. Without a word, he walked over to the wall and ripped the cord from the phone jack. Pieces of things – plastic and tiny screws – burst from the wall. I jumped. He walked down the hall and hurled the gift they so lovingly wrapped for me just a few months before, squarely against the wall. It shattered. In a booming voice that could make the house shake, he offered only this, “Enough!”

I can say with some certainty that my parents did not consult a soul about how to properly handle my defiance. They did not seek expert advice, check out a book from the library or ask another mother over coffee. What I do know is this: they sensed something wasn’t right. See, when I talked to my girlfriends or other boys in my class we said good-bye on time, our parents all hounding us in the same, age appropriate and parental way. But this boy, he was the vehicle for my adolescent rebellion. And our lingering phone conversations? They were that neon blinking light every parent knows is flashing, but is just so damn easy to shield your eyes from. It feels so much better to look away. Until of course, the day comes and that flashing just won’t quit. It starts screaming to you, “Look at me!” And you don’t want to hear it, because there are other things to see and hear. And then your child brings it right into the center of your busy living room, puts it in your lap, holds that light right against your eyes until you can’t turn away anymore. You have no choice. You stand on the top of the only mountain you can truly rule, the only mountain in the world that really matters and you yell and demand with fury, “Enough!”

You, smart and savvy Unsure, are not helpless. None of this is out of your control. You know exactly what to do. Open up that bedroom door and turn that screen around. Look right into those blazing neon lights and let them burn. Stand on the top of your mountain and be brave enough to see it all. You need to know. It might all smash to pieces. You might have to start all over again. You might have to walk away and look at yourself in the mirror – weary and cautious – and wonder when the hell everything got away from you. You might have to ask yourself why you didn’t see it all along, why you ever even looked away. When you turn that screen around, when you look at yourself in that mirror, you might see other broken things about your life too. The crumble might sting, but a sting is temporary. It heals fast. But doing nothing, doing nothing is the worst. Because doing nothing, well, it burns forever.

And here’s the thing about my shattered phone. Over time, we replaced it. And over time, that boy, well, we all had enough.

Go on!

Janell 

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