Friday, May 13, 2011

New Rites Of Passage...The Cellphone

One of our kids favorite movies is "Horton Hears A Who". Its a very funny movie and my kids have seen it a billion times. One of my favorite and funniest of scenes in the film is when Mayor McDodd's youngest daughter precociously asks him for a "who phone". Being a patient and prudent dad, he responds that surely the other kids in her class don't have who phones yet. Then, to his chagrin, his daughter produces her class photo and all the kids are talking on who phones....except her. It was laugh out loud funny the first hundred times the kids watched it...but little did I know that it was less light hearted entertainment and more a warning sign along the road to tweendom. This is because my ten year old son has been asking me for a cell phone anytime he thinks I don't remember who it is that is doing the asking. This has always been an "out of the question" conversation between him and I...but recently we had our own "who phone" moment that has prompted me to start thinking about kids and social technologies. But first...the background...

My son Daniel is ten and not very responsible for taking care his things. We bought him a cool hat at the start of the school got used in a school project and was never seen again. We have purchased cool shell necklaces, wallets to keep his money in, and lately a rather sharp pair of sunglasses. What did not get lost got sat on and utterly destroyed. So, as you can see, our son has a history of not being nice to his things...and we have had this discussion with him often. The last item to bite the dust were the sunglasses which became the last straw for more accessories no matter how cool because they will not get taken care of. While this exasperates us, it's also probably totally normal for a boy of Daniels age.

However, his tendency to lose/destroy things is never far from my mind with I hear the question, "Dad...Can I have a cell phone?" To which I usually reply, "But Daniel, you just destroyed that pair of sunglasses we bought you that you SWORE you would take care of. There is no way I am buying you a hundred dollar phone your going to leave at school or step on when you leave it on the floor." That usually killed the conversation cold and Daniel would wait until he thought I didn't remember the last time before innocently sliding the request into conversation again. No way was Daniel getting a cell way, no how...never. If he did lose it or break it he would use all his minutes calling someone sitting on the opposite side of the room from him or butt dialing someone in Thailand.


The other day, as I was picking all the kids up at school, we rounded the corner onto the sidewalk to see two girls from Daniels class sitting on the front fence texting each other with brand new android phones. To which my silent thought was..."What the hell?!!!" I knew that at least one other student from Daniels class had a phone...if more kids had phones that the cell phone conversation was about to get a bit more difficult. An non-chalantly as I could manage I asked Daniel how many kids had phones in his class. To this he got very quiet and thought for a while. "At least five." he finally answered. "Oh", I thought...silently shocked. There are only about 20 kids in Daniels class..that's about a quarter of his class...and most of those kids are Daniels same age. "Are their parents crazy?", was my first thought...though I know it wasn't a particularly kind one.

Now, there was still no way I was going to give my son a phone because he still has not shown me that his is responsible enough to have one. However, knowing that at least a quarter of his class had phones had not only shocked me but made me question myself. Am I just horribly out of touch? Is this becoming normal for kids this age to have a device that not only keeps them connected to you but to anyone else they can get numbers for...or who can get theirs? Perhaps these kids are extraordinarily responsible kids? Also...this is only the number that Daniel was aware of...does that mean there are more? If it's five this year, is it going to be ten next year? Since this year we had at least part of "the birds and bees" talk with Daniel, and we were becoming aware of his developing interest in was beginning to look as if the "growing up" milestones where coming at me faster than I could keep up with. "What's coming next?", I thought to myself. "Hey dad, can I have the car keys?"...oh hells to the no.

I know that kids in Daniels class have had facebook pages for at least a year but I have not even considered that for Daniel because I know whats out there. private concern is that I am hampering Daniels social development by being what I think is a prudent parent. Ten is simply too young for cell phones and facebook....maybe in 8th grade...a very tiny, almost undetectable maybe. At that age they are walking to school on their own and going to after school events. Being independent means needing a link home and if it ties them to their friends...o.k. I can deal with that.

We are living in a different world than the one in which I grew up in. One in which people are connected in amazing ways that MOST of the time are positive and beneficial. For example, YouTube can be one of the best ways for young gay kids living in rural areas the ability to see something different about being gay than what awful things they may hear from their families....and things like the "It Gets Better Project" just may save a few lives. But, at the same time, rumors fly at electron speed...bullying now follows you home and creeps out through your computer screen....and very little of our personal information is safe from someone determined to exploit it. Those things are scary enough for adults to manage...its scarier to think that it's just one more dimension of modern life that we need to teach kids to watch out for.

In my heart I still believe that ten is too young to be swimming in the electronic ocean...the sharks are just too big and too many. But am I wrong? Is this just becoming the way things are? One day Daniel will have a cell phone and probably a collection of social media pages...all closely monitored by his parents....but that day is not today. I can't change what I feel is still the right decision just because "all the other kids are doing it." However, I know the day is coming when it will be time for Daniel to learn to swim in these waters and how to watch out for the sharks. "Always swim with a buddy" they say...When the time comes, I will be that buddy even long beyond when he thinks I have let him go alone.

Until next time dear readers....


  1. Something to consider...

    I have 4 children ages 13, 12, 9 and 6 and I have provided cell phones to the oldest 3. Crazy? Bad parenting?

    Well, I'm divorced and their mother moved them 4 hours away and the cell phone is the only way to keep in touch. I want them to be able to call me whenever, and I want to be able to do the same. Most plans only cost $10 for an additional line such as this but I splurge on the unlimited texting plan too because that's almost all they use with their friends. I'd say most of my kids' peers have phones. They're definitely not the only ones... and I'm not sure I would get them one if they lived with me... but the high rate of divorce may be behind the increased use among kids that you see.

  2. Hey Bryan
    I remember when my son got his first cellphone he was 10 I didnt buy it, it was a gift one he never used .... his father brought him his next cellphone mainly as a bribe but by that time I saw the need for him to have one as I was working full time and I found it necessary for him to keep in contact with me... so he was about 12 almost 13 at that time and he has had one ever since....but the kids use cellphones and the have lost the art of having a spoken conversation now every thing is text speaking so having a spoken conversation with teenagers is hard these days..

  3. You aren't wrong. You're being a parent.

    As a kid I was 8 when I got my house key. I had the house to myself for a couple of hours a day. Wasn't such a problem when I was younger.

    But when I got into my teen years, well, those couple hours were party time.

  4. truthspew says the truth.

    (I'm currently a 21 year old gay man living on his own)

    In some ways, as I grew up raised by my aunt and uncle, I was VERY VERY responsible. In some ways, I absolutely was not.

    House to myself = Trustworthy. I never had parties. And the most I did (around 17 years old) was have a few friends over with wine and other drinks as we watched a movie. I maintained the place sometimes for weeks at a time, and there were very few problems.

    Internet = Not Trustworthy. I was discovering my sexuality, so you can guess what that means... (including the actually dangerous anonymous chat rooms online that were so popular a few years ago)

    Cell Phone = Fairly responsible. I got mine on my own when I was 16ish, and my aunt only got upset because I could have attached my phone to their cell plan and saved money.

    It depends on the individual child, in individual ways. If you don't think Daniel should have a cell phone for a few years, that's totally fine.

  5. WOW I know end of middle school start of HS I would ask my parents about a cell phone but they did not give me one (dads old one when he upgraded) when I was 16 and had gotten my drivers license.(and same thing with my brother when he turnd 16 and got his licens) I remember when I got it they told me it was so that I could get them if I needed too, like if the car bored down etc, and so I could call for help if I was ever in an accident. It was not till I was a bit older and we got on a better calling plan that I was able to use it for social things.
    I don't know maybe 10 is the new age for getting a cell phone but I don't feel my parents handicapped my by waiting till I was 16 and they wanted to peace of mind of know if I needed them or they wanted to check in on me they could.

  6. I think you are doing the right thing. You know your son best and know whats best for him. Good writing as alw

  7. Hey Bryan,

    I do not think that you are wrong at all. Your son will not lose anything important by not having a cellphone or a facebook page. A time will come when he will have enough of that.

    this was my favorite line of your post: "When the time comes, I will be that buddy even long beyond when he thinks I have let him go alone."

  8. I understand your concerns. I may be a bit old fashioned but I believe children should learn the basics before tossing them into the electronic sea, you so described.

    Having a cell phone or a Facebook page may be ways to communicate and network but should we really toss them into an environment like that before they have completed beginner social skills? I really don't think so.

    A child's responsibility is not the issue. I think its one of learning the basics before moving up to an intermediate level.

    I know when I was in school I was learning social interaction all the time by directly interacting with people. There is something to be said about looking into someones eyes, learning body language, and reading another's intent.

    If we delay or skip this step we leave them at a disadvantage in life. Its to easy to lose the Human connection electronicly. Its also to easy to get attached electronicly when instead we should learn to know people.

    Like I sad I may be a bit old fashioned but wait. Make sure he has a grasp of the basics first. Without them its like trying to use a computer only ever having played games. You may know how to load a program but can you troubleshoot it?

    Since only you know when that is trust in your judgement.

  9. I seriously see no reason for anyone under 14 years old to have a cellphone, that's was when I got mine, even though many of my classmates had their own phones I was managing just fine!

    The big cloud called internet is just growing, and kids are meant to stay kids!

    Btw, I'm 18 now, and I would never buy a $100 phone, I mean I go to school, that's a lot of money to lose, or for i to be stolen, I would be devastated. Not even being able to buy a new one since I used all my money on the first one. Keep it simple..


  10. Dear Bryan,

    it’s amazing how you make me contribute to your blogs without even deliberately asking for it. I guess, it’s your topics and life that I resonate to.

    I am not a parent (yet), but I agree with you on this. If Daniel butt-calls and breaks most of his expensive presents then he has yet to learn to become more responsible. It takes time. As for Facebook at 9 or 10, I would be very-very cautious. The thing is, these days way too many kids (and adults) don’t even know how to communicate face-to-face, ‘cause most of them chat and click through online profiles. People kind of forget how to approach one another with gentleness and self-confidence, how to truly listen to a conversation partner, how to convince somebody in something or how to compromise. The Internet makes it all unrealistically easy. On trains here in Germany I see kids who never chatter, but stare into a cell phone playing some video games. On school yards many just look into the ground with their headphones in the ears, because it is just not enough to type in “Hi, you’ve got a cool pic” in a chat mask to start a conversation. In life you also need some courage, natural appeal and a sense for timing to do that.

    It is indeed inevitable that Daniel and Selena will have online profiles someday. But I really don’t think they’ll be missing out on something if you allow them to have those profiles later in life.

    P.S.: You are a wonderful parent.

    Arty (28)

  11. I don't really see the need for cellphones until high school, to be honest - as I've managed just fine without one until then, but it generally depends on the person. At the time, my friends complained how it was hard to get in touch with me because I didn't have a cellphone. This would usually hinder communications when we try to meet up for an event, etc. I don't think 10 is an appropriate age to have a cellphone, especially not when Daniel loses things. I lost my glasses at around that age - imagine the face on my mother when she found out I left it at a nursing home! They were quite expensive.

    In terms of facebook profiles, etc. I've been using the computer and playing online games on it since I was 9 - because my brother was a huge computer nerd. Although I would say there are a lot of dangerous people on the internet, it really gives you a different perspective on things. It was through the internet that I knew what being "gay" was. I was playing this online game and someone was joking about getting guys, and I was so confused and baffled at the thought of a guy being with another guy. (As it turns out, I'm gay! :O)

    I think middle school is an appropriate time for an online profile. I know that's when a lot of people started using myspace and xanga for my generation. Just make sure Daniel isn't gullible to ads, random messages, etc.!

  12. I didn't get a cellphone until I started high school. Then again, I didn't ask for one, I was given it and instructed to call mom every day when I got on the bus home. That lasted about as long as you might expect (longer actually, about a month). I still don't use my cell vary often and have yet to bother with Face-Book (senior in HS).
    Cellphones are only useful once you have a certain level of independence. A level that you really don't start to approach until middle school at least.
    Not having a Face-Book can make social things a bit more complicated but they are definitely still do-able. Again this isn't an issue at all until you reach a level of independence from your parents. Technically the minimum age of a FB user is suppose to be 13 any way.

  13. If your kid wants to make a call to Thailand, make sure that he calls me! lol.

    Love from Thailand.

  14. Well, since it's a technology era, I would say give your son a cellphone. Not those iPhones or Droids (I don't even have Lego growing up), but the cellphone for kids, you know the one that have parents number and emergency number only? It would help to keep track of your kids, especially it would help if there is an emergency and your kids can't get to a public phone =D

  15. Obviously you know your own child and what's best for him, so follow your instincts. Personally, I think that Facebook should wait until he's 13, because that is the legal age, and by then he should be mature enough for it. However, I think that it may be a good idea to get him his own phone sooner than that. At 10 years old, he will be beginning to be more independant. Therefore, it is vital that you can keep in touch with each other. DO NOT BUY HIM A SMARTPHONE!!! I realise that you probably wouldn't anyway, financially speaking, but still. Get him a bog-standard mobile that he can use only to text and call. He'll probably lose interest in it soon enough and just use it to contact you and make the occasional social arrangement. Also, get pay-as-you-go, not contract, and only give him a small phone allowance (or get him to pay for it himself...that will put him off overusing it!!!)
    But as I said, you know better than I what is best for your child.