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Surveil to Survive

Our family gathered to celebrate two milestone birthdays last weekend: a first birthday and a last-of-the-20s kind. The first transitions Mina from infancy to language, mobility, and tantrums and the latter allegedly encourages Josh to abandon the hedonism and metabolism of youth.

It’s hard to believe how time has flown to deliver us to these celebrations. Add to that the incredulity of how complex it is to raise a child now compared to 29 years ago.

That incredulity came to the forefront, thanks to the Uber driver who brought us to the airport last week. He has eight year-old twins who are watched like hawks by the parents. The driver wistfully reminisced about his own childhood in the 80s and 90s with memories of playing outside with his friends until sundown forced them indoors. Now, he won’t allow his daughters to be outdoor without constant parental supervision.

Was he a paranoid girl dad? Was he afraid of the anger seething all around us? Racial profiling?

Yeah all that, he said rather unenthusiastically. But really, he added, the root cause of the fear is our GPS-fueled devices. Anybody can surreptitiously watch, record, transmit, and turn an innocent outdoor activity into something vile.

As I thought of how lucky we are to have adult children, little Mina flashed before my eyes. Instantly, I traveled from "Mina is getting lots of play time outside" to "no way is she going outside without us in tactical gear".

Three decades ago, despite our attempts to keep tabs on our kids, they freely roamed the neighborhood building forts, hiding in trenches, and milling in nearby yards. I distinctly remember calling neighbor after neighbor trying to locate Josh for dinner. One time, I was grossly late for an appointment because I could not find him anywhere. When he finally sauntered through our backyard, stick in hand, this irate mother threatened to call the cops if he pulled a stunt like that again.

Four-year old Josh didn’t care about my meltdowns. He knew he’d go out and lord over the neighborhood the next day and I knew that that was inevitable too.

Mina on the other hand will probably have GPS on her ankles and a camera on her vest. Like with a smart golf ball, we will always know where she is and with whom. We need a shield around her that will tase anybody trying to record her and a drone hovering over her to annihilate strangers with bad intent. Devices and apps will have virtual padlocks and we will surveil her every online move.

We know that social media can profoundly affect self-image. Online chats can lure children on paths as bad as the violent alleys in inner cities. Naturally, social media will be monitored by Mina's adults using industrial strength methods.

I know Mina will need to be online. She will have to deftly navigate the devices and applications du jour. Her first phone will likely be on her glasses or built into her clothes and smarter than her computer. She will live in a "metaverse" that will have unending details of her images, likes, dislikes, interests, friendships, comments and behavior.

We will have to fight our instinct to lock her into our current world. Instead, we will have to keep pace with technology to help her develop healthy habits and let her build forts, hide in tunnels, walk in the neighborhood without policing her every move. I cannot yet fathom the how.

While we helped Mina step into year two, we also celebrated Josh beginning his 30th year, a milestone of an entirely different nature.

His drinking days are numbered (I hope?). His surgical training will end in a few years. He already has responsibilities that I could not have imagined this derelict toddler would ever be entrusted with. Every trauma or disease he sorts will be a gift to his patients. The possibility of error will hang over him like the sword of Damocles on a daily basis. His path is anything but easy and he too will have to surveil to survive, albeit in a different way from Mina.

Lord help Mina and Josh on their journeys and give us strength to support them in the best ways we can.

Hippo Birdie Two Ewe to the youngest denizens in our zoo.

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