There’s a new device on the market that’s making my heart sink as a mom and an American.
It shows a teen girl driving like a maniac, playing hooky to go to the beach in a bikini, and sitting on the couch alone with her boyfriend about to … whatever. Then it shows how Verizon’s “Hum,” an electronic device you plug into your car that alerts you when the teen goes too fast, or beyond the boundaries that you get to set, or isn’t where she is supposed to be. You get the tracking info, you get to set the maximum speed. It does everything but put you back in the driver’s seat of your child’s life.
Hum. Hmm. As a person terrified of cars in general and my boys’ driving in particular, road time is a minefield of worry.
But the idea that once we trust our kids to drive we do not trust them to go where they say they’re going, drive the way they tell us they’re driving, or stay where they agreed to stay means a basic bond of trust is gone. We are treating them like toddlers who need direct oversight, even though we make this happen electronically.
The device assumes parents should and must always be in control, even when we’re not there to make informed decisions. For instance, allowing parents to cap the maximum speed: What about when the kids are fleeing a volcano? Or axe murderer? Won’t we feel bad about that 50 MPH limit then? And it alerting us when our kids drive beyond the edge of the boundaries we’ve set. Is exploring always too risky? Do we want kids who never do anything spontaneous or adventurous? More profoundly: Don’t we want the locus of their moral development to be inside them … rather than inside us?
At the same time, look at the message the kids themselves are getting. First off, that even the most basic adulthood is too adult for them. And second, that as parents we are willing to give them all the freedom of a prisoner with an ankle monitor. He can go to and from work, same as our kids are allowed to go to and from school.
Yes, yes, I realize we don’t have to give our kids any wheeltime at all. And driving is a privilege, not a right. But trust is not a privilege. It is the foundation of any real relationship. And when Verizon attempts to erode it by flogging the most stereotypical worries — sex, drugs, craziness — it’s no different from all the products, articles, books and TV shows that suggest that the minute kids walk outside they could easily get kidnapped, hit by a car or break a limb.
The Hum operates on worstfirst thinking: Show the very worst case scenarios parents can think of, and sell us a device so we can proceed as if it’s all about to happen.
It is extremely easy to undermine a parent’s confidence, because we love our kids so much. I personally feel like the ground is shaky under my feet when my son is driving far away at night. I just can’t help it.
But I’m not going to Hum him, anymore than I am going to put a chip behind his ear. Letting go is scary. But it beats the alternative.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog, “Free-Range Kids,” and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, “World’s Worst Mom” airs on the Discovery Life Channel.