Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Kid Wants a Phone, And I Don't Know What To Do

We’ve resisted. And resisted. And resisted. Now, I don’t know what to think.

Our middle-schooler wants a cell phone. My first reaction was, “Are you effing kidding me!?”

I’m not a Luddite. Though some days, I do consider smashing all the electronics in the house -- except my laptop, of course. Don’t worry, sweet little laptop. Daddy’s not going to hurt you. 

I have to say that or it’ll give me the blue screen of death as I’m in the middle of typing the perfect sentence. On second thought, maybe I should smash the laptop, too. We all should, in order to restore our …

Sorry, had to reboot.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. My wife and I really don’t have anything against technology. Though, we’re certainly not technology junkies, either. We have just a few laptops, two working iPhones, an HD television, highspeed internet, WiFi throughout the house, a wireless printer – the usual. We’re not the type to wait in line and spend top dollar whenever a new iProduct comes out. And it’s safe to say you won’t find me sporting Google Glass eyewear anytime soon, even though I adore Geordi Laforge -- I really do. It’s just not me.

I consider myself a centrist on the issue of technology. And I’m fine with that.

But when my 5th grader asks for her own cellphone, I cringe. What the heck does a 5th grader need with a cell phone? I can just see her OMGing with her friends all day long, and well past bedtime, as the rest of her family orbits around her. I think of kids I’ve known who got cell phones too early. Isn’t that one of the first signs that you’ll end up on Sally Jesse Raphael? Or whatever show is filling that niche television market these days.
I think of all the parents out there who are losing the technology war with their kids. Not judging: us included. 

It starts when the baby sitter lets them play Angry Birds on their Ipod (blame the sitter, sure). Then you let the kids play with your phone whenever you need a moment's peace. Next the whole family gets addicted to Wii tennis. Before you know it, your tweener is in their own technology world: constantly texting friends, staring at their PSP handheld when the family’s out at a restaurant, and asking for Grand Theft Auto 5 for Christmas.

Whoa! Nobody is spending Christmas morning at my house shooting people over stolen cars! 

So the answer on the cell phone for the 5th grader has always been an emphatic no. I don’t care that everyone in her class has one. I don’t want to hear that most kids get cell phones when in middle school. Because, last I checked, about half of kids in the world go to bed hungry, not texting.

The truth is, I have no idea when a kid should get a cell phone. I’m sure it’s not the same as when I was a kid, because we didn’t have cell phones then. The answer was never; or, maybe when you’re 30. It just can’t be good for them, can it? 

Seeing this makes me ask, "Do you
have any flip phones in the back for sale?"
For comparison’s sake, I think of the kids I knew growing up who loved old-style video games a bit too much, like Legend of Zelda -- that's a game not a person I grew up with. Sure, some of the game junkies are now wealthy technology entrepreneurs, and others are highly-desirable computer programmers. But what kind of life is that? 

Maybe, I’m just wrong about my resistance to technology in my kids’ lives. Maybe it’s good for them. You know, it is truly amazing to see how quickly they pick up technology. When we visit the Apple store at the mall, even my 3-year-old grabs an iPad and gets to his favorite game in seconds, as the employees widen their eyes. I tell them, “Relax, he knows what he’s doing.”

It reminds me of how my parents always had one of us kids set the VCR to tape shows. Kids are just better at technology than grown-ups. I imagine it’s because, while the latest technology is new to us old farts, it’s just part of their world.

But their own cell phone? In 5th grade? Not in my house.

Then this happened: Our 5th grader stayed after school for a club meeting. Her school lets all the students stay after an extra hour for extra-curricular activities. They even have a “late bus” that takes all these kids home, if they don’t want to walk or arrange a ride. Usually, when our daughter plans to stay after she lets us know that morning, or she calls from the “school phone” or borrows a friend’s phone to tell us. She did none of these. 

When the regular bus came and she didn’t get off, we just figured she stayed after. She had to get back soon for dance class that evening, so we were concerned, but not all that worried.

An hour passed. Then another. Even if she took the late bus, she should’ve been home already. We began to worry. I got in the van and drove the route to and from school, several times. She was definitely going to be late for dance now. My wife called other moms. I spoke to a mom I saw on the route to school. They talked to their kids. Nobody knew where she was. More time passed. We got nervous. I got very nervous.

Just before I called the cops, my wife called the bus garage. They radioed the fleet. And yes there was one bus still making the rounds. It just so happened to have a girl on it who’d missed her stop and would have to wait until the bus was on its way back to the garage to get dropped off at home. It was our daughter.

When she finally walked in the door, we were so relieved from our wait and she was so distraught from riding the bus for two hours, we didn’t know whether to laugh, scream or cry. She chose to cry.

I held her and offered the only soothing words I could think to say, “Hey, at least now maybe you’ll get a cell phone.”

I still don’t know when a kid should get a cell phone. Is ten the right age? Or 12? Or 30? Is safety reason enough to get one? I don’t have an answer. But maybe it's time my kid got one. Maybe.

Though, no texting. Nope. Not in my house.

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Unknown said...

That was a scary experience for all of you. Do you think Maisie is responsible enough to keep track of a cell phone? Do they permit them in school? I'm sure you will make the right decision.

Unknown said...

Who misses their stop? Could she have done it on purpose knowing that the cell phone was the solution?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry said...

I am in the smae boat as you - semi luddite and all.
My older boy is in 4th grade. He has asked a few times but does not push for one yet. Truthfully, he is not a big phone talker and I don't see him being a texter. I could seeing him playing games on it constantly though. Either way, I just don't think it is necessary yet.

Anonymous said...

I guess cell phones are different when it comes to boys and girls. I didn't get my first actually cell phone until about late in my 5th grade year. Due to me being gone most of the day outside with my friends doing whatever, I used I to check in with my parents and be told when to come home. It was a simple phone not and iPhone or anything like that. I never had an IPod. My fourth grade Christmas though I did get a DSI I played star wars on it and other games but was never taken to deeply with it. Now sixth grade Christmas I got a IPhone 3 I was 13. Now to the point of boys being different than girls, I never needed to OMG with my friends or take ridiculous "selfies" or just do anything stupid, I texted my friends watched YouTube played games and used it to find out about anything that confused me. It was also a large for to communicate with my parents with basketball and other activities. But id say wait, don't get her a phone until Christmas of her 6th grade year. Don't get her anything to fancy like the iPhone 5 get her and iPhone 4 or 3 something that's not going to make her possibly snobby. Also set boundaries, your her parent so you can decide if she is mature enough for a Facebook or Twitter. I myself was and still am a very mature person, did Civil Air Patrol, went to Camp Cadet, all my own choice. You need to make sure she knows not to make a full of herself. Make your own accounts on those apps or sites and stay frequent on her. Sit her down and make sure she understands. Girls like to OMG and phones can lead to bad things. So make sure no texting boys unless you know how that kid is, really know how that boy is. Even in sixth grade boys knew more than we should've and girls I knew got grounded and punished pretty bad for talking naughty to a man they didn't know via phone. Be an active parent and please take some of my advice, it comes from experience and someone young, but more steadfast to morals and maturity.