We talk a lot about how technology has made parenting trickier in a lot of ways. Little kids who want cell phones. Teens and huge text-messaging charges. Sexting. Facebook and online privacy issues. Cyberbullying. What you don't hear or read as much about is how technology has helped those of us who have to parent (or grandparent) from a distance.
For divorced parents, non-custodial parents, parents who have to travel often for business, and parents of college-age kids, the ability to video-chat via Skype, check a teen's status updates on Facebook, or fire off a midnight email has helped to ease some of the pain of separation. Text messaging, in particular, seems to be the easiest way to stay in touch.
Globe staff writer Bella English recently wrote about how texting keeps her connected to her kids. "Your kids may not call or send e-mails, but they will text," she points out, adding that her daughter often sends one-word replies to her queries, but at least her kids respond.
A quick survey of the college-age interns in my office -- not to mention the teenagers I've got at home -- confirmed that busy young adults find it easier to text than talk. It takes seconds and you can do it on the run, one told me. Another said that her mom is a talker, and she doesn't always have 30 minutes in between classes in which to chat.
If you're a divorced mom or dad, texting can help you feel connected to your child while he or she is with the other parent. (Too much texting can be disruptive, however, so be sure to set limits with your child, if you can't with your ex -- and yes, I'm speaking from experience on this one.)
In some states, technologically assisted visitation is becoming the norm rather than the exception. The Journal of Law and Family Studies reports that several states have adopted “virtual visitation” laws, authorizing judges to include "email, instant messaging, webcams, and other internet tools to provide regular contact between a noncustodial parent and his or her child.”
Of course, a video chat via webcam is no substite for face time, and even a marathon texting session can't take the place of a real conversation. But it's a way to keep the lines of communication open. And I'll take a virtual visit over waiting silently bewteen face-to-face visits anytime.
How do you stay in touch with your kids (or grandkids) when they're not nearby?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.