Have You Tried Teleparenting?


I know I’m supposed to be scandalized at the mom in the Exchange who handed her fussy toddler an iPad. The kid instantly stopped fussing, but think of his brain development!

And I know I’m supposed to be giving dirty looks to the airman at Starbucks doing some kind of math homework while his 4-year old was parked at a table using the Wifi to look up pictures of superheroes.

The boy spent that 40 minutes quietly drawing and coloring on his paper, but what kind of parenting is that??

Teleparenting, that’s what.

Teleparenting is what we are doing when we use smart phones, notebooks and computer screens to help us parent our children.

Have you tried teleparenting? You are probably doing it right now. I am. That's because I'm parenting kids in the 21st century, thanks.

I've been teleparenting since my eighth grade son flinched every time he heard the sound of my voice asking him to do anything.

When I texted him the same questions on his phone, he not only answered me civilly, but he also did what I asked without making a big deal about it. Total score.

All hail teleparenting, right?

Oh, wrong. Of course wrong. Everything a bit-beyond-new turns out to be wrong when it comes to parenting. So there are a lot of mixed feelings about teleparenting out here--maybe because it is so weird to see a preschooler wield the technology it took us years to learn.

Shoot, I freaked out a little the other day when I handed my friend's preschooler Macy my cell and she instantly found my pictures so she could look at my kids. Macy then took a picture of me. A really good picture. Without any wattle. Wunderkinder!

We are at that point where on one hand, we are supposed to be scandalized about how American parents are using iPads and smart phones and computer screens to mollify their children.

On the other hand, we are supposed to be celebrating how those same screens are bringing us together.

For example, in this news story, the reporter claims that there is “a new kind of US military family, one in which children see parents on a smart phone or computer screen… This kind of teleparenting isn’t like being there in person, but it is keeping families connected like never before.”

Watching how teenagers in this story connect with their deployed dad via smart phone is kinda heartwarming. The daughter laughs when it is even suggested that she has a “virtual” dad.

The distinction between the dad she sees on the phone and the dad she has at home telling her to clean her room apparently isn’t a big deal to her.

Which ought to reassure military parents like me. Instead I keep thinking about how the family tells the reporter that they have seen their dad more on their phones and computers than they have seen him in person.

And how the next family in the story swears that Skype “sealed an emotional bond” between the deployed dad and the newborn.

That stops me. For all of us who have been through deployment with kids, we know that teleparenting like this with a deployed service member  is better than nothing. Seeing faces, connecting more, that’s a good thing. It helps.  A lot.

But our servicemembers would be the first to tell you that teleparenting is not real parenting. Teleparenting is a placeholder until they can be back home and in the game again.

Not for an instant would they say that they have  "parented" over the phone -- any more than I would tell you that I was parenting when I turned on "Little Mermaid" for the 25th time so I could take a shower alone.

Teleparenting isn't real parenting. Real parenting is what happens after that  service member hangs up. Real parenting is the hands-on part when you put dinner on the table and getting the sixth grader to recite the battles of the Revolutionary War and make sure everyone brushes their teeth. And gets their teeth cleaned. By a real dentist.

Real parenting is reading to a child tucked into that little space beside you before bed.  Real parenting is listening to a teen who decides to tell you everything they know ... at midnight. The night before you have a 6 a.m. flight to catch.

Real parenting is assuring everyone under your roof that Daddy or Mommy is doing their job, that they'll be home soon, that everything is going to be OK.

If military life teaches is us anything, it is that parenting is a hands-on job performed by hands-on people.

Teleparenting might make that a little easier for us.  We lean on teleparenting especially when a partner is gone.  Who knows better than we do that it is no substitute

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