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Jun 18 2014

My Son Has a Secret Life on Skype

By at 10:05 am

boy-computer

Did you know “nvm” means “never mind”? I didn’t.

My almost-teenage son explained that to me. When he texted me to ask how he could get my online signature for a board he’s applying to. But when I didn’t reply because I was in a different time zone, he figured out he could ask his dad, so “nvm.”

I didn’t understand why he didn’t ask his dad to start with–I was clearly out of town and not very available, or even at all available. And I didn’t know what “nvm” meant. Oh, and I also didn’t know he was applying for a position on this board. Because I think he has a secret life. Actually, I’ll rephrase: he thinks he has a secret life. Or at least one that need not involve his parents.

The board, by the way, is comprised of 6th-12th graders who plan events for Jewish teens, learn about fundraising and outreach, and is facilitated by a youth director. An awesome endeavor for him to be a part of, if his application is successful.

I just wish he had mentioned it to me. Emailed. Texted. Sent me an Instagram pic of his application. Skyped.

Because he definitely knows how to Skype. He spends hours every afternoon on Skype with the very friends he spends hours at school with. They play Minecraft online together, or talk about nothing, or just stare at each other. And I hate it.

Not because I think they are getting up to no good. I can hear their geeky Minecraft strategies and harmless conversations. It’s not that he’s immersed in a cyber world, or that it’s too much screen time. He has been at school, with people, for most of the day already. He’s played basketball and interacted with teachers and friends for hours. And for our kids today, Skype and FaceTime and online communication are as natural as picking up the cordless was for us when we were their age–they don’t know any different and why should they?

What I hate is the sense he has that he can deal with his life and whatever comes his way alone, on his own, by himself. And he’s not yet 13.

I love and encourage his independence. He is the oldest of four, and he rises to the role of big brother daily. He excels at it. He helps one with her homework, fixes the little one breakfast, looks after them all when asked. He is responsible and easy-going and very undemanding.

And that’s the problem. My problem.

I came home late one recent night and heard voices floating out his darkened bedroom.

“Daniel?”

Silence.

Seconds later, clear as a landline connection, “Gotta-go-bye” quickly and quietly snuck out the room. In I went. As quickly, but definitely not as quietly.

He appeared confused, rubbed his eyes, looked around in the darkness. Not the son of a drama major for nothing.

“Were you on Skype? I heard you. You said, ‘Gotta go bye.’ Who were you talking to at 11 o’ clock at night?”

“Mom. I was sleeping. I don’t know. Maybe I was talking in my sleep.”

I knew he wasn’t telling the truth. But I wanted him to feel that he could tell me the truth, and without pressure. Not under duress. And definitely not because I had caught him in a lie. I was angry that he was secretly on Skype at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, but more upset that he was lying to me about it. But I didn’t want him to tell me the truth just because he was scared I’d ground him for a week, take away his TV privileges and his iPod or whatever it was he was Skyping on.

Honestly, I didn’t know what the consequences would, should be. Probably because I didn’t know what–if anything–was wrong with him being on Skype, besides the fact that it was kinda late for a not-yet-13-year-old to be cyber-connecting.

But now he was lying.

And I wanted him to want to tell me the truth. Not just then, in that moment, when he was a 12-year-old safe in his bed, at home, where he had been all night. I wanted him to want to tell me the truth on all the Saturday nights that are still coming, when a friend drinks too much, or he drinks too much, when he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, when he is uncertain or scared.

He is independent and he can handle the board application. He can sign himself up for a karate tournament, or figure out his own electives, with more than enough savvy and responsibility for a boy his age. But sometimes and inevitably life becomes too much for even the most responsible, the most independent, the most reliable to handle.

I don’t want him to wonder, “Oh shit what should I do?” when he finds himself on the wrong Bart train to San Francisco, when he already told us he was hanging out in Berkeley. I don’t want him to feel it’s better to cover up and figure it out for himself, even if that means getting himself into more of a pickle.

Rather, he should know that he can call his parents who love him, that it’s okay to need our help and that we will help him, no matter what. Yes, we will ask questions and we may be angry or question his judgment, but we want to help him. Life happens.

I stood at the foot of his bed in the Saturday night dark and looked at my man-boy in his dinosaur pajama pants, blinking his eyes and pretending I had roused him from his deep, innocent slumber. I explained all of this to him. Gave him the opportunity to change his story. Whenever.

“Mom?” Low, deep. “I was on Skype just now.” And the boy who never hugs his mom reached out to hug me.

I high-fived myself as I walked out his room.

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