I'm a mom who uses technology to talk with and care for my daughter Emma, a high school junior, while I work full time.
It's called "distal supervision": showing teens that their parents always are aware and caring about how they are doing, whether it's a school day, workday or weekend.
I send Emma Facebook messages with links to movies or events I think she might enjoy, and reminders about chores she has to do. I check her grades on the school website and text her to turn in her library books. She can post my notes to her Google calendar, and presto! Less nagging.
It works in reverse, too. I can't always take a call, but I can almost always check a text. Emma's events get plugged into my calendar, so I can plan around them. School fundraisers, theater flyers and dance photos get posted straight to my online "brag book" for our scattered family and friends to see.
I'm grateful to be able to stay (virtually) close with my daughter while also allowing her more freedom and personal space than I had at her age. Technology lets me be an involved parent but one who isn't smothering her (much).
There are drawbacks. I hate it when we are riding in the car, which often is our time to talk in person, and Emma starts texting her friends. It's like watching two people whisper to each other. She admits it's rude but sometimes finds it hard to resist that buzzing phone.
I just switch the radio from the music station we both like to news, which she finds mostly boring. She usually gives up the side chat to get her music back.
Another complication is TMI: too much information.
Emma and I are not Facebook friends. We like the privacy of our own peer groups. But some of her friends have friended me as an adult mentor, and she is connected with adult friends of mine. Facebook can blur traditional boundaries between what you tell your friends and what you tell your parents, and when, and how.
For example, when Emma and her boyfriend broke up, I learned about it on Facebook several days before she was ready to tell me. The public gossip flew faster than the personal message. But hasn't that always been the case with social networks? What's concerning is how prominently Facebook encourages gossip, complete with candid photos, while more personal communication takes a sorry back seat. As if we all were tabloid celebrities.
When Emma finally told me the news, though, I said just what mothers have said for centuries: "I'm so sorry you're sad. I was hoping it might not be true." Some things must still be spoken face to face. There is no virtual substitute for tears and a hug.
But when she leaves for college next year, it will feel good to say: "Text me any time. I can be there on the next train."
Karen E. Wills is a pediatric neuropsychologist with Children's Hospitals of Minnesota.