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Teen Dating in the Age of Technology

To the young lady who called my son 28 times last night.  There’s a reason he didn’t answer.

To the young lady who makes my son feel guilty for spending time with friends or having a long sports practice, or especially for just turning off the phone so he can watch TV or spend time with his family, you have way too  much time on your hands.  Maybe you need a job, or a hobby – possibly something other than my son.  

And, dear young lady, who requires constant contact via text when my son is out of sight, please let him play video games without having to declare his dying love for you every 5 minutes.  No one can win like that – in either the game, or the game of life.  

Seriously, please don’t buy him anymore underwear.  Unless you are his mother or his wife, underwear is sacred in the teen years. It’s an earned right of passage that comes from hard labor of the birthing sort or the lifetime commitment sort. Or both. Unless of course you’re his grandmother and just get him underwear and socks every year for Christmas because that’s what grandmothers do.  

Y’all, I’ve learned more about the rituals of teen dating in  modern times than I ever wanted to know.   And it’s been a crash course in guarding my heart against a giant wall of fear at the prospect of all my son’s hopes and dreams being dashed like a tiny little raft,  afloat on  the giant ocean of teen love.  

Because to me, teen love in the age of technology doesn’t look anything like the teen love that I saw back in the day.  To which my kids would ask something like, “Mom, were movies in color or still in black and white when you were young? ” But as I tell them, those, my dear, were the days. 

The age of innocence.  Or so I thought then….

Those were the days of land line phones with giant, long cords that stretched from the kitchen wall to the living room couch, to give the tiniest little feeling of privacy. Which was really just a big fake out by parents everywhere who heard every single word we said, and then made us wonder how they knew where to show up at that after hours party or the ever popular McDonald’s parking lot filled with scenes worthy of month-long groundings.  

Those were the days of hands in the back pocket of your boyfriend’s jeans in the hallways of the school or the mall.  Especially the mall, because other girls might not just be shopping for new clothes. Those were the days of parking in the dimly lit public library parking lot and doing this, that or the other. Of hanging out at the friend’s house – the friend with the understanding parents – who left you, your boyfriend and the other paired off couples full use of the hot tub and the den to have your Friday night fun.  

Those were the days of laughter and emotion and feeling grown up in the safety of a new relationship, until you got a note all folded up in one of those intricately folded rectangular shapes handed to you in the hall after chemistry, but before lunch, saying that emotions are fickle things, and so are teenage boys.  

In fact, those were the days that broke a few hearts and taught some hard lessons about what it feels like to grow up.  Those were the days of wishing that there was constant contact and ways to track message receipt, check-in location, and a full pictorial history of your love’s life, before and after you. Turns out, a life that didn’t always, and probably never did, fully center around you. 

I guess I worry about my boys, now that they aren’t getting the full picture of relationships in this particular time of learning.  That they take for granted the immediacy of everything –  the response, the attention, the highs of new love, complete with digital reinforcement by teens who “follow” you, but that you’ve never actually met. 

And I worry about how that same immediacy can turn on them in a blink;  and how conversations of love, turn into far too grown up talks about futures and commitments and plans too big for them even to understand yet.  And I dislike more than anything, that the competition to be liked as a couple by the social media masses has taught our kids that image and status is far more important than truth and patience and waiting. 

I think the constant pressure to be present in front of a cell phone audience has grown the current need to be liked and fulfilled in ways that I never had to learn. I understood the pride of being chosen, of being paired, of being what I felt like was happy, but what was just as much a feeling of worth at an age when worth needs constant reminders. But I find it hard to accept that my boys learn just as much, if not more, about relationships from what the outside world sets as its standard, than what they see in their home each day.  

Maybe I did, too. Just without such a large audience. Maybe innocence is something we look back and dream of –  remember fondly, even, but never really was. And maybe it looks so good now because I’m on the other side. The side that can see the things my boys have to learn and experience to be able to look back one day, like I am now, and color it a pretty shade of good.  

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