In Austin, Texas, Hohlt Pecore, 7, and his sister, Elsa, 4, have complicated relationships with their mother's BlackBerry. "I feel very annoyed," says Hohlt. "She's always concentrating on that blasted thing." (Hohlt says he picked up the word "blasted" from the film "Pirates of the Caribbean.")
Elsa has hidden the BlackBerry on occasion -- Hohlt says she tried to flush it down the toilet last year. Their mother, Elizabeth Pecore, who co-owns a specialty grocery store, denies the incident. But Elsa also seems to recognize that it brings her mom comfort, not unlike a pacifier or security blanket. Recently, seeing her mom slumped on the couch after work, Elsa fished the BlackBerry from her mother's purse and brought it to her. "Mommy," she asked, "will this make you feel better?"
Emma Colonna wishes her parents would behave, at least when they're out in public. The ninth-grade student in Port Washington, N.Y., says she has caught her parents typing emails on their Treos during her eighth-grade awards ceremony, at dinner and in darkened movie theaters. "During my dance recital, I'm 99% sure they were emailing except while I was on stage," she says. "I think that's kind of rude."
Emma, 14, also identifies with adults who wish their kids spent less time playing videogames. "At my student orientation for high school, my mom was playing solitaire," she says. "She has a bad attention span." Her mother, Barbara Chang, the chief executive of a nonprofit group, says, "It's become this crutch."
Safety is another issue. Will Singletary, a 9-year-old in Atlanta, doesn't approve of his dad's proclivity for typing while driving. "It makes me worried he's going to crash," he says. "He only looks up a few times." His dad, private banker Ross Singletary, calls it "a legit concern." He adds: "Some emails are important enough to look at en route."
Some mental-health professionals report that the intrusion of mobile email gadgets and wireless technology into family life is a growing topic of discussion in therapy. They have specific tips for dealing with the problem, like putting the device in a drawer during a set time period every day. "A lot of kids are upset by it," says Geraldine Kerr, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Morristown, N.J. She says parents need to recognize that some situations require undivided attention. When you shut off the device, she says, "You're communicating nonverbally that 'you matter and what's important to you is important to me.' "
Still, like teenagers sneaking cigarettes behind school, parents are secretly rebelling against the rules. The children of one New Jersey executive mandate that their mom ignore her mobile email from dinnertime until their bedtime. To get around their dictates, the mother hides the gadget in the bathroom, where she makes frequent trips before, during and after dinner. The kids "think I have a small bladder," she says. She declined to be named because she's afraid her 12- and 13-year-old children might discover her secret.