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Archive for March, 2010

GOIN’ COURTIN’ 21ST CENTURY-STYLE

From its first invention in 1876 the telephone has been not just an instrument of communication, but an instrument of courtship. For teenage girls in particular, all the elements of modern courtship – waiting for boys to call, calling boys, discussing boys and making dates and plans – have been conducted via the telephone.
And although parents might have complained about teenage dominance and how they never bothered answering the phone anymore because it was never for them, there was comfort in knowing that the courting patterns of their teenage children were so transparent.
Not so these days. The only way I can tell that a boy is whispering sweet nothings in my 16-year-old daughter’s ear is by the little smile that plays in the corner of her mouth when she is reading a MSN message. That’s if she’s using the laptop on the kitchen table. When she stays in her room, we don’t find out what’s going on until an arrangement is announced.
“There’s a party at Ben’s house on Saturday night. Can I go?” she asks.
“Ben who?”
“You know, Ben from school.”
“No, I don’t know. As far as I know it could be Ben the Axe Murderer, or Ben the Dope Freak.
“Mum, it’s Ben the Nerd!” she tells me in exasperation.
“But are his parents nerds or are they axe murderers or dope freaks?
“They’re all nerds,” she says rolling her eyes.
“But nerds can make other nerds,” I warn, paraphrasing Yente the Matchmaker from the musical Fiddler on the Roof.
After extensive research, I discover that Ben is indeed a nerd, and possibly gay, so of course she can go to the party – as long as she gives me his mother’s maiden name and his father’s shoe size, as well as their home and mobile numbers.
You think I’m paranoid? Meet Debra. She used to rent her spare room to students until she found that one was not just using the computer for homework. “She had a webcam and was on Skype,” Debra confided.
So?
“She was undressing. We could hear men talking to her. The man was virtually in the room. I’d say he was doing something else as well,” she added conspiratorially. “They’re in the bedroom virtually. There’s a whole world going on, and as parents you can’t tap into it at all,” she says.
Debra confesses that – in the interests of child protection – she used to read her teenage daughter’s diaries. “I read their diaries because it is my business. It’s my business just to read everything – but very hard to do that if it’s all electronic,” she adds.
Debra has good reason to be concerned as a few years ago her friend’s son committed suicide after spending too much time on MSN and the Internet. “He hung himself. He was actually heavily into death and heavy metal websites before he died,” she says, wide-eyed. “The real world in his head was all electronic. He left a note in his own blood – ‘Death is beautiful’.”
My own blood runs cold at the thought of my 16-year-old daughter tapping into such a world.
I decide to investigate. As far as I know, there is no diary, other than the school one, which starts off in February with such riveting entries as “English assignment”, and peters out by March from lack of use.
Her laptop, which is sitting on the kitchen table, is on but reveals nothing more than a half done essay and various people on MSN asking when various other essays and assignments are due. Perhaps she is right? They are all nerds.
But sometimes, it’s not the diaries that are the most revealing, it’s the bills. Another friend only discovered that her son was in love after receiving phone bills that were five times the usual amount. Most of the calls had been made to a mystery mobile, belonging to Aphrodite – not the Greek goddess of love, as his parents first assumed but a girl at school.
My friend’s son has since been forced to pledge his troth to his parents in the form of repayment of said bill, while he and his goddess have to resort to carrier pigeons.
In the absence of carrier pigeons there is always Skype. My husband and I were watching TV recently when we heard the resonating sounds of bass guitar coming from our daughter’s room upstairs. This was strange as she is heavily into opera and does not own a bass guitar. On further investigation we found out that it was her boyfriend practicing bass guitar while he chatted to her on Skype.
But perhaps the biggest change in modern-day courtship has been how your change of status is announced when you and a former friend that you hadn’t really liked that much before suddenly become an “item”.
Once upon a time, a boy gave a girl his ring, or a pin. Now, you just both register your status online for the world to see: “Mary Nerk is in a relationship”. Breaking up can be as simple as removing this information, that is if you are a complete coward.
It’s simpler and a lot cheaper than the old days, but somehow not quite as dramatic as removing the ring or pin and throwing it in the Yarra or sending it back with a curt note, or better still, keeping it as a souvenir.
I confide to my husband that I prefer the days when you pledged your troth with something white and sparkling.
“Like champagne?” he says.

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