Monday, February 20, 2012

What parents really mean when they ask “where are you?”

We have a couple of offspring under our roof at the moment, both of them over eighteen. The male one having gone out and not called home for a couple of days last week I eventually succumbed to texting those three little words that mean so much in the contemporary relationship between parent and child: “Where are you?”

I’ve texted those words thousands of times during their growing-up years. You’re not really curious where they are because they swarm hither and thither in search of the place where the maximum number of mates are gathered. Where they are right now bears no relation to where they will be in half an hour. I discovered long ago that it was no use asking where they were going when they left the house because that was a decision that would eventually be reached as a result of scores of texts. Young people nowadays don’t plan because mobile communication has meant they don’t have to.

So I’m not really interested in where he is. What I really mean when I thumb out the three words “where are you?” can better be expressed in the three words “are you alright?” (a question which triggers a mental slide show in every parent’s mind, no matter how old the person you’re asking it of.) Obviously you can’t actually ask that question because it will come back over the net with vicious top spin. Of course, I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be? Honestly...

It’s at times like these that you realise that the boom in mobile telephony has been driven less by freedom-loving kids than by comfort-seeking parents.


  1. I find Google Latitude rather a comfort in this regard. Even though my 'kids' are 32 and 29 respectively, you don't stop wondering if they're all right, as you say. They have to agree to sign up to it, but once they get over the feeling that they're too old for you to know where they are every minute of the day and night, it's perfect for keeping tabs on them - or, at the very least, knowing when there's no point in ringing them because they're in a bar in Shoreditch - or, amazingly enough, in Albania, as the oldest was recently.

  2. When The Number One Son lived at home I had two pro forma texts keyed in to my 'phone: OK? and eta?

    If I got a reply from the first within a few minutes of sending, I felt better. Later in the night, if the response to the second wasn't silly o'clock I'd go to bed and sleep lightly. Only when I heard the key turn in the front door could I then fully relax.

    None of this stuff was in the handbook that came with him when he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.