My son has been begging me for a cell phone for the better part of two years now. It happens at least weekly, if not daily. He claims he is the only kid in school without a cell phone. Although kids tend to exaggerate, I actually believe him. You see, my kid is a teenager in the 8th grade and doesn’t have a cell phone. I still have no intention of getting him one any time soon, and here is why.
To me, having a cell phone is a very big privilege that has to be earned. I don’t think that kids should automatically get a cell phone just because they have reached a certain age or because “all” their friends have one. These little rectangular computers yield a lot of power. And cell phones shouldn’t be handed over to kids without a lot of thought and preparation on both the child’s and parent’s part.
Clearly when I say cell phone, I am mostly referring to smartphones. With a smartphone comes access to the worldwide internet, social media, cyberbullying, pornography, sexting, addictive games, sexual predators and a list of things I am probably not even aware of. Not to mention monitoring your time online, learning safe internet practices and and understanding the reach and permanence of the internet.
It just seems like a landmine of potential problems that my kid’s brain is not prepared to deal with on his own. At best, the cell phone will be an addictive distraction that sometimes takes precedence over school work and responsibilities. At worst, one bad decision or interaction on the internet could alter the course of his life.
Before you go jumping to conclusions, I am not ridiculously strict (although my teen would argue otherwise). We don’t live in the dark ages and my kids have regular access to technology. I make a living on the internet and think that it is important that my kids are tech literate. And between all the tablets, phones, gaming devices and laptops in my house there is at least a 2:1 ratio of devices to humans.
I just think before I hand my teenager a cell phone and set him free in these internet streets, I want to feel confident that he is equipped with a level of knowledge and responsibility to make mostly good decisions. And I say mostly because I know I can only teach him so much. He will eventually have to learn from his own mistakes.
I have begun to let go of the reins and give him more freedom on devices at home. And he has made mostly good decisions. But like most teenagers, he likes to push the envelope a little. I have stopped him from watching some inappropriate shows. And we have already had to have conversations about a few nefarious websites.
We also had an incident where he was approached in a texting app with a sexually inappropriate conversation. Luckily, I was able to catch it, inform him of what was going on and walk him through the situation. And I am thankful it happened under my supervision and not on a personal cell phone where it could have easily escalated.
Another concern for me is how addictive smartphones can be. I don’t want my kid locked in his room all day zoning out on social media. I know my kid and he already struggles with focus and staying on top of school and his responsibilities. Having a cell phone could potentially be a huge distraction. I need to know he has a good grip on managing his responsibilities before I am willing to throw a cell phone in the mix.
It seems a little hypocritical coming from me. I spend a lot of time on apps on my phone because of my job. The truth is I struggle with managing my own time on my devices. But I am mature enough to recognize when it’s too much and put measures in place to curb my usage. That’s a skill he hasn’t quite acquired, and I don’t want to turn into the nagging mom to enforce that.
Speaking of nagging… the amount of times that I have had to get on my kid for losing a jacket or water bottle have tripled since he started middle school. He misplaces his retainer on a daily basis and it is not uncommon for him to lose his homework somewhere between the car and the classroom. So forgive me if I am a little hesitant to hand over a phone that cost hundreds of dollars.
Yes, it would probably be easier for me to give in and just get him a dang phone. He would be out of my hair and I wouldn’t have to defend myself to just about every person on the planet. And I know within the next year or so I am probably going to get him a phone. But his first phone will be an inexpensive phone with no access to the internet or any apps…just good ‘ole calling and texting. And it will be a privilege he will have to consistently earn by maintaining his responsibilities at school and home.
You may think that I am being ridiculously strict. However, I believe I am preparing my kid to go out into the real world on his own. Once you are out on your own, nothing is free. You have to work for what you get and work to maintain the things that you earn. Getting a smartphone is another step towards his independence and I want him to understand that with independence comes responsibility.
Today it’s a cell phone, tomorrow it’s a car and in the blink of an eye he will be getting his own place. And I see no reason to rush this process. Go ahead and call me “old school” or accuse me of being some type of helicopter mom. I don’t really care. I care that the days of my teen enjoying a carefree childhood are numbered and I want him to enjoy them for as long as possible.
Raising kids in this digital age is challenging. We are facing parenting decisions no generation before us has had to deal with. So I don’t know what the right answers are when it comes to teenager and cell phones. Every parent and every kid is different. All I can do is what I think is best for my kiddo.