Parents who want a way to talk so little ears can't hear have moved beyond s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g in favor of a new kid-proof system: the text message.
E-mail, text and instant messaging have become the go-to technology for parents on family outings or at the end of a long day, when mom's chilling on the couch in front of the TV and dad's reading in the bedroom more than a whisper away.
"There was a time when I would get really upset if I was IMed from another room in the house. Now it's a complete parental survival tool," says KellyAnn Bonnell, whose kids are 10 and 15.
Tammy Gold, a parenting coach in Short Hills, N.J., says phones and online tools are particularly important in tight spaces like apartments, where there are fewer secluded spots, and especially with older kids who stay up as late or later than the grown-ups.
"I've had parents who say it's weeks before they can speak," she says. "Parents these days put `sex' into each other's phones or else it won't happen."
Parents in a two-BlackBerry household can use the company's free text service or rely on the messaging features on Facebook since they're logging on frequently anyway. Others have come up with languages all their own.
"Should we partake in a visit to the place with aluminum obstacles or cages containing mammals?" Greg Abel and his wife value their synonyms — that's the playground and zoo — when their kids are listening, especially when more open discussion would likely lead to a sibling spat or major disappointment.
"We have a bright 5-year-old who can spell, so we can't spell out words in front of him," said Abel, from Baltimore, Md. "If we're trying to decide if we should give him ice cream, but only after his younger brother has gone to bed, we might say, `Should we give the elder a frozen confection?'"
With a 2-year-old, Melissa Kaupke in Nashville, Tenn., can still spell that and lots of other things, but she wishes her husband was on board with her own parents' secret language of "Ob." You know the one — http://bit.ly/az19n4 — it sounds like you've got rocks in your mouth.
"My parents always used Ob," she says. "My dad's parents did the same thing when he was little. Unfortunately, my husband thinks it's too silly to do, because it works really well."
Mom-of-three Amy Wilson, who wrote the off-Broadway hit "Mother Load" and has a new book out about mothering called "When Did I Get Like This?" relies on e-mail in tight spots, especially when her pack — ages 2,5 and 7 — was younger.
"I have used it while my husband is driving," she said. "I'm in the passenger seat, and the baby is asleep in back. All of my kids were so attuned to my voice that if I talked at all, they would wake up. So I would sit and look out the window, and as the married couple to-dos occurred to me I would e-mail them to my husband, sitting not even an arm's length away."
Foreign languages, made up or the regular kind, are not only handy but can whip up interest in kids who want in on the secret.
"My wife and I were both French instructors, so we spoke French around our two children," says Robert Magnan of Madison, Wis., of his now grown kids. "Since they didn't understand French, the system worked well. It also motivated them both to learn French and become fluent in it."
Jessica Gottleib, the mother of an 11-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son in Los Angeles, grew up with elders who spoke German when they didn't want the kids to hear.
"As soon as we heard `der kinder' we'd start listening," she says. "I still can't speak it, but I know when my dad is talking about me, and I know exactly what he's saying. I wish we spoke another language."
Instead, she and her husband text at home for ears-only chats and aren't above a little incentive to keep their confabs confidential.
"We usually just send them out of the room and then whisper, though we've been known to give them a dollar if they scat faster."
Not everyone's on board the technology train in excluding kids. Sharon Hirsch, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Chicago Medical Center, thinks parents lose a lot when they rely too much on instant technology.
"Texting or e-mailing is fine for brief informational exchanges like I'm picking up Jimmy at 7," she said. "But the best way to communicate complex ideas, issues and concepts is directly, face to face. You don't do that in an IM."
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