In the morning, on my way home after walking my kids to school, I pass teenagers streaming down Tappan Street toward Brookline High. Among them is a girl who’s always looking at her phone. She’s tall and graceful, I think, although it’s hard to tell because whenever I see her she’s bent deeply forward over the tiny screen held in front of her, a pentitential posture that has become a commonplace sight. The other day she walked right out into the street without looking up. I resist the urge to meddle, but some part of me feels that it’s my duty as an adult to advise her to put away her toy and pay attention to the world.
Tech skeptic — OK, tech crab — though I may be, I recognize that a cell phone now counts as basic equipment for living for many people, including me. And as a father whose kids will soon be teenagers and will eventually own cell phones, I accept that it can be a useful tool, especially for those of us who give our children plenty of freedom to roam the neighborhood and the city. The cell phone is wildly overrated as an emergency safety device — that teenage girl’s phone is more likely to get her run over than it is to save her from some dastardly wrongdoer — but I accept its more mundane utility. There’s a substantial body of reliable research that shows that kids whose parents know where they are and what they’re doing tend to do better in life.