"No devices with texting or phoning s'il vous plait!" Early yesterday morning I loaded my daughter on to a coach bound for Folkestone and the onward journey to Northern France, where she will be spending the next week with her school. Her excitement has been palpable for days. A chance for her to hang out with her mates and have fun away from home without the usual rules and regulations that dominate her daily life. She has been on many school trips before, but this one is slightly different....a preparatory email from the French teacher banned all mobile phones, iPods and tablets on the trip.
There are a multitude of reasons for this, but the primary one is that it is a cultural trip intended to improve the pupils' French and Madame did not want them to be distracted by screens. She is old school and she wants them to interact with each other and their surroundings without electronic gadgets and social media, "It will be good for them, oui?"
My daughter's immediate reaction was one of jaw-dropping horror "You can't be serious! Well I don't care what she says I am taking my phone. How will I keep in touch with my mates back home? What about my Instagram? I won't be able to post for a whole week! How will I listen to my music? I want to watch a movie on the coach journey. What about taking pictures? No this is ludicrous, I am taking it...end off!"
Adamant that I must have misread the email she asked Madame again, only to be disappointed. Yes, she meant it and if any one dared to break the rule and bring their phone or any other "app device" it would be confiscated. She advised them to bring board games, cards and seek out old DVD's they could all watch on the coach.
My teenagers are firmly attached to their electronics and can frequently be found multi-screen tasking. It is nothing for them to be simultaneously watching TV, chatting to a friend over FaceTime, sending a message via Facebook, posting on Instagram and playing Minecraft, whilst chatting to me of course!
I am often asked what my rules on screentime are and truth be told I don't have any other than they must switch off all their devices half an hour before bed and nothing is allowed to stay in their rooms over night but is put in to charge downstairs in my husband's office. We monitor their usage but we don't prevent it. Ultimately, they both have lots of interests and lead active lives, so if they have done their homework and their chores, I have come to accept that this is what their generation do to unwind and communicate.
The flip side of this is that whilst I concurred with Madame on leaving phones behind "What a great idea", I also found myself starting to panic. How would I cope? My own mother laughed hysterically when I shared my fears and reminded me of my own "electronic free childhood". Nevertheless, I communicate with my teenagers frequently when they are at school or out with friends day or night. There is always a text at the very least to say how they are and if I want to I can always plug into "where's my iphone" and instantly track them down.
My teenager's phones have ultimately become my security blanket. They give me access to 24 hr contact in the event of an emergency and act as a tracking device to calm my paranoid maternal mind in those moments when I suspect they have been abducted by aliens.
So it is me who is having the real separation anxiety from my daughter's mobile phone this week, not her. I know my daughter has arrived safely because the school messaging system has told me so, but it doesn't tell me about her...
Who is she sharing a dorm with? Does she have time to clean her brace properly before they head out for the day? Has she been putting sunscreen on? Are they remembering to stay in pairs when they get their free time to explore the local town? At least if she had her phone I could just check. But as my husband keeps reminding me as I toss and turn every night, the rule is probably there to keep the parents at bay too. These trips are a learning opportunity on more than one level. It teaches them how to look after themselves, which is all part of growing up and being independent and that has to be a good thing right?? "T'inquiete pas! Don't worry" said Madame as they headed off. In the meantime...five days left and counting.
Does your child have a mobile phone? What do you think about banning phones on a school trip? How would you feel without contact for a week? I would love to hear what you think.
It has been a strange week without Teenager No.2 in the house with her constant chatter and as we have been devoid of a means of contacting her the most obvious word to describe my week is "Silence". Two more days and it will all change.