I’m slightly embarrassed to admit how often the boys request that I ask Siri something. I like to think that they’re in on the joke a little bit, that they know as well as I do that Siri is not someone they should rely on in a pinch, that when they ask, they’re asking because they hope she says something silly, as she did last winter when we asked her to send a message to Santa and she told us that he’s old-school and prefers letters.
But then again, Siri is encapsulated in my phone, and my phone – and phones in general – are things that I wonder if we’ve come to rely on a little bit too much.
A couple of months ago I wrote about learning to trust my kids to take care of themselves, to cross the street safely or to be by themselves in the apartment for 15 minutes. But there’s another level to deal with. Kids can be taught what to do in normal circumstances. Manchild and Squish are both great at remembering to stop at corners, to wear their helmets when they’re on their bikes, to hold hands when they cross the street. And as long as things are “normal,” I think I would trust them to take care of themselves in various circumstances.
It’s those not-normal times that give me a bit of the heebie-jeebies. You never know when”not-normal” is going to come up, or how, or what state of mind the kid is going to be in when it does. Will he be totally freaked out? Will he be cool under pressure? Will he be lucky enough to find someone who will help him, or will he be too afraid to even think to ask?
There is a part of me that wants to think of everything that could ever possibly go wrong, and then prepare my kids for each one of those things. Another part of me thinks that if I even try do that – which is totally impossible, something totally crazy and bizarre is going to happen just to throw us all off anyway. And then there is the more rational part of me that subscribes to the notion that I must teach them correct principles and let them figure things out from there. That is what I aspire to do.
Knowing what those principles are, however, can be tricky business. My initial reaction is just to tell my kids to find someone with a phone so they can call me. They know the number, that should be fine, right? Then I can tell him what to do from there. And, in fact, that’s what we told Manchild to do if he ever got separated from us in a public place: find someone with a phone. And then we revised it: find a woman with a phone. And then some more: a woman with children, if possible.
And that’s when I realized how easy it is to complicate things, which makes me feel, once again, like we’ve –I’ve – become too dependent on technology. I pull out my phone to check directions, the weather, addresses. The information tells me what to wear, which way to walk, if the place I’m going to is even open. It’s an amazing tool for me, but one that, I fear, is setting an impossible expectation for my children, who don’t have phones and probably won’t have one that can show them where they are on a map for, possibly, a decade. (I’m clearly not taking into account the fact that all phones are going to be smart phones by the time my kid is old enough to have one.) What happens if they get lost and know nothing but to look on Google Maps?
Turning to a phone, in short, is not a correct principle. It won’t help my child figure out what to do if he gets lost in the woods during a camping trip. It won’t keep him safe in the event of a natural disaster or tragedy. He can’t ask Siri if the person who has offered to help him is someone safe and trustworthy.
So instead I’m trying to help my kids understand that there are dangers in the world. That we need to be aware of them. That not every person is good. That they are in charge of themselves and their bodies. We talk about safe habits, of course, about not letting people touch them, about not going with an adult they don’t know at any time or anywhere.
And then we teach them to pray. To ask for help and to listen for answers. We teach them that even if no one else is around, they are not alone, and if they are confused and unsure, they can be led and guided.
I’m not entirely sure that those are the principles that will best help my children to be safe in circumstances that are not-normal. But I trust that they are. I trust that God will help them to be smart and safe if they need help. And I trust Him to help me know how to teach them, and then when, and how, to let go.
I’m also not entirely sure that I’ve got a handle on that approach. What are your thoughts? How do teach your children to be safe? What principles would you teach them to help them make their own decisions?