SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Teenagers home alone: there's a smartphone for that

Usually my job involves shuffling around the house in my pyjamas talking to myself, interspersed with the odd burst of writing. Occasionally it involves getting dressed and leaving the house, and rarer than a blood moon eclipse, it requires a trip.

Like the one I am on now, complete with boarding card and borrowed shoes.

So what, as a single parent of young teenagers, do you do while away on a work trip? Remote parenting, that’s what. The trick is to make your presence felt, even from another time zone via a carefully co-ordinated series of veiled threats and shameless bribes. Digital media plays a vital part in remote parenting –you can’t very well do long distance harassment without the aid of a smartphone.

It is essential to keep them on their toes – random Whatsapp messages requesting photographic proof that the washing up has been done; single capitalised instructions – HOMEWORK and SHOWER and BED – in just the right tone of turbo-nag. The whispered suggestion of a secret webcam. The dire consequences of bunking off school, with warnings that school will be furiously texting mummy within 30 seconds of anyone not turning up.

This is Big Brother parenting turned up all the way to ten, designed to make your darlings feel that they are under close surveillance at all times, instead of the actual reality – that mummy is several countries away and has no idea whatsoever if they are sleeping, washing, doing their maths homework, or just lolling about on a Netflix-and-Pringles binge. Such surveillance works fine in all manner of evil dictatorships; I see no reason why it cannot be effectively applied to the domestic sphere.

To keep them onside during this aerial bombardment of barked orders and tacit threat, well-placed treats help to jolly things along; as any high ranking FIFA official will confirm, the power of bribery cannot be under estimated. A giant jar of Nutella will get them out of bed more effectively than any alarm call (although I will be doing that too) and I remain optimistic that a fridge full of pizza and ice cream will lure them back from school rather than encouraging them to hang out in bus shelters smoking weed and Instagramming indecent images of themselves and others.

Perhaps such optimism is naïve. I won’t know until my return. Meanwhile, the 15 year old is having her girlfriends around for a sleepover. One of the other mothers – the parent of an only child – texts to confirm that there will be an adult in the house. I resist the urge to reply saying that yes, both our dogs, who are in their mid 30s, will be home. She might feel compelled to call social services and report that my children are in the care of two large dogs and an iPhone. Not that I will be able to do much about it, given that I am up a mountain in Italy.

It’s easier to just keep texting and hope for the best.


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