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Mar 29 2011

Cell Phones and Sorgenmeisters

By at 3:22 pm

Carla's daughter playing with the phone.

We love phones in our house.  As I sit here writing, I’ve got a house phone and my cell phone by my side.  My daughters love to play with theirs—our toddler “calls” her Bobe and Zayde to ask for more “special cookies” (that would be toddler-talk for Hamentaschen), and our infant loves chewing on the plastic pink phone.  It all seemed perfectly innocent to me.  Until I read the news.

First I see this piece in the New York Times about a 14-year-old girl who texted a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend.  They eventually break up, he shares the picture, and it goes viral.  Within hours virtually every kid in town with a cell phone has seen it.  Three teens who were involved in spreading the photo were eventually charged with disseminating child pornography.

After an initial spike in my blood pressure, I calmed myself down.  I’m no expert in mothering, but I feel fairly confident that I can teach my daughters not to send or post naked pictures of themselves.  (Mental note to self: take down picture of toddler sitting on the toilet that I recently posted on Facebook.  Be sure to save it for Bat Mitzvah slide show.)  Anyway, I convinced myself, this sexting business is clearly an anomaly, as it made the front page of the New York Times. We’ll be fine.

Next I turn to the Boston Globe, which has posted an article about teens who are sleeping with their cell phones under their pillows so they don’t miss any “important” texts, such as a break-up between friends. Apparently some teens are sending and receiving as many as 30 emails and text messages when they should be sleeping. Instead, they’re nodding off in class, and getting sick and depressed.

Now, I know we’re years away from the dangers of cell phones, but I’m nothing if not an anxious Jewish Mama, and I freaked. What will I do?  How will I deal with this? I’ve worked hard to manage my own technology addiction—what if it’s genetic? What if my girls spend their teenage years with phones glued to their ears? What if we become that family that texts each other from the next room, instead of actually talking to each other? What if my daughters have no social skills and never find a meaningful relationship and never give me grandkids, all because I never took the time to teach them how to use a cell phone properly??

I lept into action.  I found my copy of Wendy Mogel’s “The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise a Resilient Teenager” and immediately began searching for her advice on limiting cell phone use.  While frantically scanning the pages, I found this instead: “Yiddish has a specific phrase to describe a person who spreads gossip about things to worry about: sorgenmeister.”

Sorgenmeister.  I like the sound of that. And even more importantly, I like the concept.  Our society, and especially the media, has become one big sorgenmeister, warning parents of the dangers at every turn.  Escalators are staircases of death!  Nonorganic mattresses?  You might as well spritz your baby with pesticide each night!  Bath toys are nothing more than happy little homes for all the nasty poo bacteria in your bathroom. And cell phones—well, give your kid a cell phone, and the next thing you know she’s basically an insomniac porn star. Parents beware.

I must confess that I too have been guilty of sorgenmesitering, like the time I forwarded an article about the dangers of humidifiers to my local Mommy list-serv. (Apparently the Mommies didn’t enjoy being sorgenmeistered, or so I surmised from their responses.) Needless to say, I’ll be limiting my future posts to questions about plumbers and how to get my infant to sleep past 5 am.

And, to you, Mr. Sorgenmeister, I say, ENOUGH!  I shall no longer play your little games. You can try to scare me, but I will not fall prey to your scare tactics. We will ride the escalators with wild abandon and rub our faces in our non-organic mattresses, and by God, my girls will have cell phones someday, if for no other reason than because Mama wants to remind them not to talk on the phone too much—did you read the latest research on cell phones and brain tumors?


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