Turning Big Brother Off

The first week and a half of school, dealing with my son’s commute, was rough. First, there was just getting my mind into a place where my son was going to be commuting to a totally different neighborhood on the bus each day. Then there was the stress of him getting lost, and of forgetting to text and let us know where he was.

Each time something happened, my gut told me he was fine. But still, despite all of my big talk, I was having trouble just letting it go and assuming that he was fine. That first day when he did his commute alone, and forgot to text when he got to school (my husband’s idea, but something I willingly went along with), I spent a lot of time breathing deeply. I did not panic, but only because I was forcing myself not to. Even though everything I knew about myself was telling me he had simply forgotten to text and was fine, I really wasn’t OK until I was able to confirm that he was, indeed, at school.

So, we turned on the locator service for his cell phone. It’s something that hadn’t really occurred to me, but after that first snafu I thought the locator would give me peace of mind.

It did not. Instead, it became a crutch. A crutch I didn’t need but was using anyway.

When he was taking longer than usual to get home last Thursday, I checked his location several times. I could see that he was moving down the correct street fast, which meant that he was on the bus, just where he should be. Then, he got off and the little locator dot went the wrong way. What? Should I call him? I told myself to relax – he was probably going to the store for a snack.

Then, last Friday, he forgot to text when he got to school again. I searched for his location, but instead of reassuring me that he was in school, the locator put him in a neighborhood in the opposite direction from where his school is.

This time, I knew that my gut was right, that he was at school. That the locator couldn’t find him in his cold-war-era bomb shelter of a school, and it was confused.

So here we had two things that I was supposed to be able to rely on to tell me if he was in school: the ability of an eleven-year-old boy to do something consistently that I probably wouldn’t remember to do half the time, and an app that likes to mislead me for fun.

I decided on Friday that it had to stop. I wasn’t being the parent I wanted to be. When I was a kid, and I walked out the door for school, my parents assumed I’d gotten there just fine unless told otherwise. Now, it’s the other way around: we had set things up so that we were assuming something had gone wrong unless we got confirmation that everything had gone right. It didn’t feel good.

I told my husband at dinner that night that I wanted to stop the texting, stop the locating. Now, I think he and I are pretty much on the same page about the freedoms we want our kids to have, but he gets there just a little slower than I do. He wasn’t ready to just assume everything was OK. He didn’t see the harm in keeping track of where Jake was this way, but that’s because he wasn’t the one stressing if a text wasn’t sent or a dot wasn’t in the right location.

So, I told him that if he wanted to take over, that would work for me. When Jake goes back to school tomorrow after the long weekend, he’ll text his dad when he gets there. I no longer have the password for the locator site, so I can’t check up on Jake. I have faith that he will be, within reason, where he says he will be. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be letting him do this commute, no matter how we could check up on him.

He’s eleven. If he wants to swing by a store or the library after school, he should. If he’s going to be unusually late, he should call – just like I had to. And he has it so easy, with a cell phone. And if I really really need to get him, I can call that cell phone.

I’m embarrassed by my behavior last week. I don’t understand why we don’t automatically allow our kids the same freedoms we had when we were their age. Instead it’s a fight against our guts, a fight against logic, a fight against safety statistics, and most of all a fight against having faith in our kids.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. says

    Don’t be embarrassed, in this day and age of fear and fear mongering it’s easy to fall into that trap of over functioning. Especially with the tools we have. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your kids is letting go a little. It gives them confidence and shows them we trust them to grow up. I wish I had done this with my oldest son, who at 22 is only now realizing how capable he is.

  2. elissapr says

    Join the club of ‘tech-coptering’…being a helicopter parent via technology. And yes, I just made that up. It’s sort of passive agressive isn’t it? I give you the freedom, but I’m going to be like James Bond to assure myself that you’re fine. Instead, it just drives you crazy. Props to you for figuring it out after just one week! It could have been much, much worse….

  3. Cara Robinson says

    Before even reading the comments I was planning on making one similar to Laura’s. This problem is reminiscent of a much larger one which is that we live in fear. With the internet we hear of every awful terrible thing that happens and it makes it seem like these things are happening more frequently. As my daughter grows up I long for things to be more like the way they were when we were kids.

  4. says

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, we’re all guilty of it. We do want to trust our children, I know I do, unfortunately the world feels a little more sinister than it did when we had to traverse it on our own at 11.

    I think that monitoring for the first few weeks is reasonable especially if this is Jake’s first real venture out into the big bad city.
    As parents, if we get it wrong, we adjust and try again. :)

  5. says

    I think you were being more of a concerned parent than a helicopter mom. You were both adjusting to a new routine, so cut yourself some slack.

    You gave him the freedom to ride the bus alone; you just wanted to be sure he got the hang of it before you let him do it without monitoring. That is completely reasonable.

    For what it’s worth, my 11- and 13-year-olds are both required to text me when they arrive if they go anywhere alone on bikes or on foot. They also have to text me when they change locations.

    I’m starting this now not because they are bad kids or I buy into the media’s scare tactics. Rather, it’s because I remember the trouble I got into when I was a latchkey kid at their age and I knew no one was watching me.

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