I got my first cell phone at 18 years old. I was pretending to be a responsible adult with an apartment and a job, but it was also important for my dad to be able to reach me and vice versa. There was no one else I could call anyway, because none of my friends had cell phone yet. Plus it took forever to send even a short text, because you had to click each letter button so many times to type the correct letter.
But obviously things have changed since the 90s. My older kid is only seven years old and he wants a cell phone. He regularly uses my phone or his dad’s to send text messages to Grandma and he knows how to use the phone to set a timer or to call 911. He also uses it to diligently monitor the daily temperatures in Yakutsk, Russia; Afar, Ethiopia; and Darwin, Australia. Each an equally useful skill, of course. He also knows he must get permission every time he wants to use a phone.
My husband and I discussed cell phone usage years ago and I vowed my children would not have a cellphone until they were teenagers. Of course, it’s really having access to the internet that is worrying, rather than the phone itself – and that changes the perspective a little bit. For example, a couple years ago, there were stories about school principals and counselors being really excited that bullying at schools had declined dramatically. But they soon discovered that a ton of bullying still happens, and what’s worse it’s done online outside of view of teachers and school officials.
So what can we do? Is requiring that he be a teenager to use a phone on his own too harsh? He’s clearly too young now to have one, but it’s good to think about these things in advance and formulate an opinion. My husband and I were talking about this one day when he brought up the point I made earlier: it’s not cellphones and tablets themselves that are the problem it’s the internet and apps. I mean, I really do like the idea of being able to check in with my children when they are at a friend’s house and vice versa. In fact, today’s children are growing up with cellphones and tablets and they will never be a novelty for them. What’s more, the apps everyone is concerned about right now will be passé in five or ten years when our kids are using phones on their own. And there will be something else entirely different (maybe even a different technology altogether) trying to grab their attention, and no matter how much we think about phones today we’ll be stumped. This parenting thing and trying to keep up is really hard!
For me it all comes down to being able to have open and frank conversations with your children. Something I am always asking my friends with older children – and now I’m going to ask you: how do you make sure that your children feel safe coming to you with ANY & ALL of their questions and concerns?
No really, I am asking you!!