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‘I find comfort – when his phone is charged – in being able to see where he is’

Big Mother is watching: we micromanage our children’s lives in a way the generations before never experienced

“A tracker on the phone,” one parent suggested to me recently as a solution, when I put my usual “has anyone seen my child” shoutout into the WhatsApp group. “It’s a lifesaver,” she continued. She wasn’t, of course, talking in the literal sense, because he’s usually just lost all track of time. Rather, instead, she meant for the preservation of my sanity and for those hours spent trying to track him down that I’ll never get back.

Thing is, in the excitement of escaping with his friends (if you hang around here too long, you might be asked to do something, you see), a minor thing like checking his phone is charged isn’t considered a priority. So, tracking him isn’t even going to be an option half the time. Though he wasn’t completely resistant to the idea when I mentioned it.

“Yeah, no bother, I’ll turn my location on,” he said nonchalantly.

So, I stressed about it instead.


“Will that allow strangers see where you are though?” I asked, wondering if every potential predator on the internet might suddenly become aware that he was late for his dinner. “No, I can restrict who has access,” he explained showing me a map displaying the location of what looked like every teenager living within a 10-mile radius of us, by way of comfort about limitations.

My parents were very strict when I was growing up. But I don’t remember them worrying as much as modern-day parents seem to. When I, as an (older) primary school-aged child, headed off to the swimming pool in a neighbouring suburb to have the craic with my friends, with only bus fare and the pool fee in my pocket and a not a single swim stroke in my repertoire, they didn’t seem to think much of it.

When I got older and headed out for the evening, without a mobile phone even in my ownership, they presumed I’d be home later and coped without the ability to contact me for a few hours or check up on my every move.

And yet, knowing all this, I find comfort – on those days when his phone actually has some battery charge – in being able to see where he is. And on those days where it doesn’t, I can always ask one of the pals’ parents to check where their children are instead in the same manner, and peace is restored to the galaxy. And none of us think anything of it. Not even the tracked teenagers, who themselves track their friends.

None of this stops me momentarily catastrophising, of course, if his phone dies or he’s late. And not just because the chicken is burnt. But I do wonder how healthy it is. And I wonder if it contributes, like so much else we do, to infantilising young people as a whole. Different times, we tell ourselves.

But is that really the reason?

Every generation is guilty of thinking they’re more capable than the ones that follow, and Gen Z are no exception. Growing up, we schedule their play and even who they play with, in the form of playdates. And then we lament that children play spontaneously with their peers outside less. We schedule their sports, and their movement. We prioritise winning and allow adult competitiveness to take the fun out of it, and then lament their comparative, to the olden days, inactivity and our teenage sport dropout rates. We set up WhatsApp groups so that we can ask what their homework is, ask if anyone has seen their school jumpers/coats/ties, check when school non-uniform/tin whistle/PE days are and other things that most children and teenagers could navigate and manage for themselves, if allowed.

This generation typically started school a bit later. Most will do or did transition year, meaning, coupled with that later start, they’ll finish school at 18 or even 19. Though they’re men and women by this stage, we make them dress in school uniforms and call the adults around them ‘Miss’ or ‘Sir’. Then we expect them to immediately adapt to other adults being their equals, once the Leaving Cert is over.

We micromanage their lives in a way the generations before never experienced and then expect a lightbulb moment at 18 where all the maturity and capabilities we feel they should have take hold.

Still, a few weeks back when one child was late for his dinner, I was glad to be able to check his whereabouts. “Bloody phone is dead again,” I muttered as I saw the last location recorded was home. “Has anyone seen my child?” went out the WhatsApp. As time passed my mood changed from annoyed, to worried and then mild panic.

The pizza was cremated.

Turns out he had fallen asleep on his bed. Big mother was watching. For all it was worth.