Child Locators and the Working and Middle Classes
To be sure, the working-class and middle-class parents are also not entirely accepting of child locators. Fewer than half the parents in these two groups thought that they would rely on this device were it available to them (and when they objected, they often used language similar to that of the professional middle-class parents). But there were several undercurrents in the discussions with these less privileged parents that are worth noting.
First, as working-class and middle-class parents talked about why they might use such a device, they indicated that they are sensible gardeners of children with predestined personalities. Yvonne Wood, a working-class, African American mother of two who is employed by UPS, said that she has
one daughter, Samantha, whose “mind was like somewhere else all the time.” Rather than advocating “working with” Samantha or insisting on internalization of safety behaviors, Yvonne suggested a locator would have been an appropriate—and useful—device. Similarly, Danielle Jones, another working- class, African American woman, spoke of one of her children, “who wanders.” She reported, “If I knew where I could get [a child locator], yes, I could get one. Yes, I would get one and put it on his wrist, you know, when we go out shopping, and, you know, [then] he cant get lost.” In this kind of talk, these parents suggest a greater willingness to accept their children—with all their foibles and difficulties—as they are and then to find solutions that work for both parent and child without pushing the child to engage in sophisticated conversation.
Second, the working-class and middle-class parents spoke about dangers as being closer at hand. Tom Audet, the white college professor in Berkeley, explained that he would not need a child locator because where he lives “it’s not really very conducive for them to get out of the house and into places where they could get into trouble.” In contrast, Christopher Rodriguez, a Hispanic, working-class father who lives on Staten Island, New York, thinks child snatching “could happen anywhere.”
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the working-class and middle – class parents do not view the child locator as something that undercuts their competence or takes away from the importance of the job of being a parent. Instead, they view it quite simply, as something that would make their lives easier. As one working-class father said, “It seems like that might be a pretty nice thing.”
All the interviewed parents appear to have an interest in evaluating technological solutions to perceived problems, and none immediately accepts any and all technologies. Whatever a device’s ultimate effects might have been (and parents might not know what those were when they purchased it), parents do not believe that devices such as a baby monitor or cell phone would fundamentally alter the parent-child relationship as they want it to exist. Indeed, they believe those devices could enhance that relationship by ensuring greater attentiveness to safety concerns. Especially among the professional middle class, some parents believe that these devices would enhance that relationship in a different way also, by enabling greater attentiveness to childrens needs and desires while keeping them close to their children. The same is not true of child locators, as they are evaluated through the lens of the appropriate relationship between a parent and a child—even though they, too, might offer protection. For the professional middle-class parents, this “appropriate” relationship builds on ongoing parental attentiveness (which they resist making easier, as if that would make them appear negligent or unwilling to devote themselves wholeheartedly to their children) and a deep conviction that children can be “modified” to conform to parental expectations. For more of the working-class and middle-class parents, that appropriate relationship can be made less burdensome both by relying on technological assistance and by finding solutions that work with, rather than subvert or alter, a child’s intrinsic nature.