This has been the summer of the smartwatch at my house. My nine-year-old got one for Christmas, and my seven-year-old immediately started begging for his own. I hesitated — then school let out, and I realized these devices, with their simple call and text capabilities, were a good way to let them exert a little independence (bike rides, walking through the woods to a program at the park by themselves) while soothing my anxiety.
And, well, this little technological experiment has not gone according to plan.
My nine-year-old is using it appropriately. As a fearless, anxiety-free man of the people, he rarely checks in. He will call if he really needs something, and he picks up when my own anxiety requires a check-in, but mostly it serves as his beloved step-counter. He simply doesn’t require that accessible lifeline to me when we are apart, and he never has.
My seven-year-old is a different animal. His nervous system revs up a bit in new situations and he benefits from the check-ins. He has always been my kid who panics when I take an unannounced bathroom break and am unaccounted for for forty-five seconds; he needs to know my exact location on the sidelines of his games. So I should have known that putting a direct line to me on his wrist would likely lead to overuse.
The first day he used it was at a morning park camp down the street. I dropped my two boys off to a group of counselors and friends where they were told to play for three hours before walking home through the woods at camps’ completion. Before getting to the end of the street after drop off I got my first call. “Hi mom! Just making sure this works!” We had tested it seventeen times earlier that morning.
About fifteen minutes later I got my second call, telling me that he felt a raindrop. Being that it was a beautifully sunny, cloudless day, I explained to him that maybe it was water from someone’s water bottle that he felt, but that I would come pick him up if there was any real sign of rain. Then he called to tell me he twisted his ankle, but was fine. And before calling me to talk to him during his entire walk home he also called to share that he made a new friend, got gum on his shoe, and that someone wanted him to tell me that I am a “dingbat.”
Since then, each day has brought its own arsenal of calls and voice memos. Some are frantic, like when I forgot to send him to camp with bus money and he thought his group was going to leave without him. Or when I left my phone in the kitchen while I used the bathroom and missed his call. But most are weirdly trivial like when he remembered the name of his favorite chips or got bit by a mosquito. Each time I attempt to let him know that I am happy to hear from him, but that he can enjoy his day and we can recap all these little moments when he gets home. I think I kind of love it though.
Because too soon he will be uninterested in sharing his every thought and experience with me. He will be running off with friends, dodging my calls and giving me one word answers to important questions. So this summer I will enjoy the sixty-times-a-morning check-ins. I will soak in his little voice and nervous energy. I will continue to charge his watch every night, strap it on him every morning, and field his endless calls throughout the day because I know this will all be a distant memory long before I am ready.
Samm D. is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot.