Put cotton in your ears. Tell your kids you love them.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
How to keep your sanity in the text-messaging, laptopped world of kids

Sept. 3, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   So your kids are heading back to school, eh? Remember the old saying: Readin' and writin' and texting? Oh, sorry. I mean 'rithmatic. Texting (instant messaging by cell phone, in case you're really unplugged) comes fourth.
   It's hard to believe the differences between the way high schoolers lived 10 years ago and the way they conduct their lives now.
   Skip that. I left out junior high kids. Er, back that one up a bit. I forgot about elementary school.
   Everything's changed. What's a parent to do?
   I'll try to sort some of this out for you. You don't have many options -- running off to Acapulco while sis and junior are at the gym is not allowed -- but common sense can go a long way.
   But so can screaming at the top of your lungs, too. So don't think I'm unsympathetic to your frustrations. Let's get started.
   Texting: Text messaging by cell phone was invented to keep teenagers from skipping class when all they really wanted to do was talk to each other. Texting allows them to chat without saying anything out loud, right in class. At home, texting lets them talk to their friends at the dinner table without making a sound.
   You know it's a problem when: Your kids have their heads bowed at inappropriate times, such as any moment when they are not saying grace.
   The solution: C'mon, you don't really expect me to say this, do you? OK, I'll do it anyway: Tell your kids they have to act like there are real people in the room and raise their heads at least once an hour. Tell them they are not allowed to send and receive more than 300 text messages a day. Or tell them you love them.
   Laptopping: The art and science of filling your laptop computer with MP3s and viruses is called laptopping. Er, skip that. It's actually not called anything; I just made up that term. But I like it. So skip the part where I said "skip that."
   Laptopping was invented because somebody decided that every kid old enough to stop dribbling needed a way to listen to somebody else's MP3s and watch some other goofy kid's videos. Of course, given the nature of American capitalism, the inventor of laptops knew that this would end up costing every mom and dad the equivalent of two Harley-Davidsons a year. (Sorry!)
   You know it's a problem when: Your 15-year-old speaks in an ancient priestly tongue, using such words as "exception error." Or your 11-year-old asks if you've updated the antivirus thing since last Christmas.
   The solution: Buy yourself a Mac and tell your kids they have to learn how to deal with their own Windows problems. Er, that won't work; they'll just borrow your laptop and leave you with theirs. Tell them they have to turn their laptops off within three hours after going to bed. Or -- this is always a good fallback position -- tell them you love them.
   Instant messaging: AOL invented this years ago to divert attention from its awful e-mail system. Now there are a zillion varieties, all intended as supplements to texting by cell phones. Instant messaging lets kids send pictures, movies and viruses to each other without having to learn anything significant.
   You know it's a problem when: You hear strange chiming sounds around the house. That's your kids' instant messenger programs telling them they got something new. This happens on the average of 17 times a minute.
   The solution: Put cotton in your ears. Tell your kids you love them.