Author’s note: This is a possible first chapter of a longer piece.
“Mo-om! Chelsea turns it into two syllables, pleading.
“You can whine all you want, I’m not changing my mind. I warned you. You can’t act like you didn’t know this would happen.” She shoves the iPhone in the back pocket of her jeans. “Believe me, you’ll survive.”
“But I use it for school. We have to look stuff up online, and I’ll get in trouble.”
Her mom stifles a smile as she raises her eyebrows and says “Seriously? You think I’m gonna fall for that? They can’t require students to have a cell phone. They have computers and iPads in the classroom you can use if you need to get online.”
“But everyone uses their phones! I’ll look like a dork.”
“You should have thought about that before you decided to get sneaky with your Twitter.”
Chelsea sighs. “I wasn’t trying to be sneaky, Mom. Everyone has a PT.”
“Maybe that’s true. But even if everyone is doing it, that doesn’t make it right. If you really thought there wasn’t anything wrong with it, you wouldn’t have tried to hide it from me.” God, I sound like my mother, she thinks.
“I’ll delete that account and I won’t make another one. I’ll just use my regular Twitter, I promise!”
“I’ve already deleted your private twitter, and your promises aren’t worth much right at the moment, Chelsea.”
Chelsea rolls her eyes and throws up her hands in an “I give up!” gesture. “Okay. I know that Mom, and I’m sorry. Really.” Pause. “But I do need my phone in case of emergencies or when I’m supposed to let you know where I am and stuff.”
Her mom grabs a Walgreen’s bag from the kitchen counter and pulls out a prepaid, dark blue flip phone. “I totally agree,” she says. “So I got you this phone. It’s just a phone. You can make and receive calls and you can text with it. That’s all.” She hands it to her daughter who is suddenly frozen in place with eyes wide with disbelief. Her mouth has dropped open and for a moment she is speechless.
“Ohmygod Mom! Everyone’s going to make fun of me with that. I can’t use that!” She shrinks away from her mother’s outstretched hand like it’s got a snake in it instead of a phone.
“Look Chelsea, you can take it or leave it, I don’t really care either way. What you can’t do is break my rules, lie about it, and expect that nothing will happen. You’re addicted to that damn phone and your Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and all of those black holes that suck up your time and attention. I’m sorry I ever let you talk me into getting you an iPhone in the first place.”
Chelsea is silent, shoulders slumped, realizing this conversation is at an end. She looks so forlorn, her mom steps forward and gathers her up in her arms, strokes her daughter’s hair and whispers, “I love you baby girl. Someday you’ll realize that.”
She is in the middle of typing a text to her husband when her phone vibrates in her hand. He’s texting her, “Leaving work now. Need me to stop anywhere?” Calling or texting each other at the exact same time is a common occurrence with them. Often when she goes to tap his name on her “Favorites” list, her phone will start ringing and his photo will pop up. He’s calling her. They’re on the same wavelength.
“Nah. Come on home. We can order pizza.” She thinks about how to tell him about Chelsea’s private Twitter account, and how she’s handling Chelsea’s punishment. He’s going to freak. She decides she’ll wait until after Chelsea is asleep tonight. Then he’ll have a night to sleep on it before he confronts his daughter.
“K” he texts back to her. “ILY”.
He had been right. He had misgivings about giving a 14-year-old unlimited access to the internet in the palm of her hand, but she remembered how desperate teenage girls are to belong, to keep up. She persuaded him that she could monitor Chelsea’s online behavior. “On the plus side,” she had said, “this also gives us a really effective way to punish bad behavior.” Taking the phone away for a few days or a week, depending on the infraction, would make much more of an impression than grounding.
“Well,” she thinks, “I guess I failed at the monitoring part.” Chelsea did not have her own computer or tablet, as the family shared those devices. The computer was on the kitchen desk, and the tablet was not permitted to leave the family room. But Chelsea and that iPhone were inseparable. And now this.
If her husband could have his way, he would lock their daughter up until she turned 21. Or 30. She sighed. Sometimes, if she was being completely honest with herself, she had to agree. The world has become a significantly different and more dangerous place for teens in just one generation. And a lot of that is directly due to 24/7 internet access and social media.
It was easier for her husband to operate within parent mode than it was for her. She was a young mom and her teenage years weren’t all that distant. She could identify with Chelsea and struggled with wanting to do right as a parent versus wanting her daughter to have an easier time of high school than she had. Maybe if they’d had a son, her husband would be feeling that conflict too. Of course, he liked to remind her that one of the reasons he was so protective of Chelsea was because he did remember what it was like to be a teenage boy.
She walks up the stairs and pauses outside Chelsea’s door. Not just to listen, but to go over what she wants to say. It’s totally quiet. She knocks.
“What?” Chelsea calls from inside.
“Chels, I just want to talk for a minute before Dad gets home.” She pauses with her hand on the door handle.
“Come on in.” Chelsea sits up from a prone position on her bed and wraps a fuzzy green afghan around herself like a protective barrier. She’s been texting with her new phone. “What are you going to tell Daddy?”
“I’m going to tell him everything honey, but I’d like to wait until later tonight. Give him some time to think about it before he talks to you. That’s why I wanted to talk to you now.”
“You’ve already talked to me Mom, why does Dad have to lecture me too?”
The whining tweaks her patience, “Look Chelsea, your options are A: have a peaceful family dinner tonight and talk with your father tomorrow night, after he’s had 24 hours to cool off and think about this, or B: take your chances that he’s not going to blow a gasket the minute he hears what’s been going on. I’ll leave it up to you. But you definitely need to tone down your attitude or you might find yourself without any phone at all.”
Chelsea groans, rolling her eyes. “Okay Mom. I’m sorry. I just don’t see what I…”
“I’ll take that now,” her mom says, holding her hand out for the new phone. “You can have it in the morning, to take to school.”
“But-” Chelsea swings her legs over the side of the bed like she might stand up, thinks better of it and slumps back, falling silent as she registers the no nonsense look on her mother’s face. Things could actually be worse. She hands over the phone.
“Now come on downstairs and be happy to see your Dad. I’m going to order pizza.”