When do kids need cell phones? Maybe never
Usually on Thursdays The Answer Sheet’s Group of Moms discusses kid- and school-related issues. Today we are going to hear from Debbi Wilgoren, a mother of two and a Post reporter. We started talking the other day about kids taking cell phones to school, and she became so animated about the topic that I asked her to write down her thoughts. Do you agree with her?
By Debbi Wilgoren
There is no issue that gets me more exercised than the one that currently looms large in the life of my 6th grade daughter, and many of her peers: When is the right time to get a cell phone?
My preferred answer is age 16 or 17, when a young person hopefully is mature enough to use a mobile phone properly, independent enough to actually need it and earning enough money at an after-school job to pay for it. But given the ubiquity of cell phones among 7th graders and even elementary schoolers (at least those I see in our admittedly privileged slice of upper Northwest Washington), I worry that I will end up caving long before then.
Cell phones are distracting, dependence-inducing and disorganization-enabling. For adults too, but especially for kids. Not to mention socially isolating, expensive and, in my view, unnecessary.
The convenience for parents of being able to connect with their kids any time, any place, pales in comparison to the way these gadgets seem to crowd out important life lessons and daily experiences. And yet, to paraphrase ’tweens everywhere: "all the other kids have one"--or seems to be getting one soon.
Here are the reasons that, so far, we are not following suit.
Distracting: Cell phones are the modern-day equivalent of that shiny new quarter of 50-cent piece burning a hole in an eager child’s pocket. If you have one, especially one equipped with a keyboard, it practically cries out to be used.
I don’t think kids need or ought to be texting their family or friends to pass the time while waiting for a school bus to come, a movie to start or the checkout line to move. They don’t need to be lured into playing Brickbreaker or some other pass-the-time game while waiting for mom or dad to arrive after baseball practice.
Instead of tapping or dialing, I would much rather my daughter: talk to the friend sitting next to her at the bus stop; think about the day she’s just finished or the one that lies ahead; pull a book out of her schoolbag and read; or just daydream.
Yes, grown-ups -- including myself -- multitask on our phones and BlackBerrys. And it’s probably not good for us either. But we’re grown. We pay for our own cell phones, and we, hopefully, understand that they are not toys--even if we treat them that way sometimes. We’ve had our decades of downtime. Hopefully the lure of that experience is still strong enough that we put down the phone of our own volition from time to time. What will happen to this generation if they never do?
Dependence: The last thing kids need as they take small but important steps toward independence is the umbilical cord of a mobile phone.
I’m proud that if my daughter walks to the store to buy eggs, and there’s a choice of brown or white, she doesn’t need to call me--she can make the decision. If she can’t find the aisle where the yogurts are, she can ask the store clerk--he’ll know better than I will.
If we agree that I will pick her up outside the Barnes and Noble in Bethesda at 2 p.m., she needs to remember that and get herself there -- no calling or texting me to say she’s running late, or ask ’what was our meeting place again?’
And, if something really important comes up and she has to call? Use a pay phone -- there are still plenty out there. Or the phone in the school office or at a friend’s house.
Sure, it would make my life easier if I could reach my daughter at any time, to text a change of plans or last-minute grocery request. Yes, I would like to be able to call just to make sure she made it to her destination/didn’t get lost/remembered her sweatshirt if it’s cold outside/brought along her umbrella if it’s raining.
But does she really need me to hover like that--a level of checking-in I certainly never had as a child? Is it good for her? I don’t think so.
| October 22, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Parents | Tags: cell phones for kids
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