Should Your Child Have a Cell Phone?

I’ve been fascinated with New York City for as long as I can remember.  When I was a kid, I wanted to go there before I really even knew what it was.  I remember being six years old, asking my mother when she would take me to New York.  She told me she’d take me when I was 15.  (She never did.)

Now the New York Times is reporting a story that starts with a Dad named David Poger, who promised to buy his daughter Maya a cell phone at age 15, “but last year he and his wife caved when she was 11.”

The Pew Research Center reports that “75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States own a mobile phone, up from 45 percent in 2004.”  I’ve heard tales – as I’m sure you have, too – about 6- and 7-year-olds being given cell phones.  Why a child that age would need a cell phone, I have no idea… unless you’re planning on allowing them to circumnavigate the globe solo.  Ahem.

The Times says, “Parents generally say they buy their child a phone for safety reasons, because they want to be able to reach the child anytime…. But for children, it is all about social life and wanting to impress peers.”  Amen.  I’ve mentioned my 12-year-old niece several times because of her addiction to two things: technology and Justin Bieber.  She told me she got her first cell phone at age 10, has had “about 7” phones in the last two-and-a-half years, and sends – in her estimation – “somewhere around 7 to 800” texts a day.  I honestly almost believe her.  Every time I see my niece, she’s texting – obsessively.  And every time I see her, I ask her, politely but firmly, to put her phone down and talk to me.  She always does, but when I tell her I’m worried because she’s addicted to her phone, she shrugs and says, “Yeah, but all my friends are, too.”

The Times suggests that the age at which you give your child a cell phone “depends on the child’s maturity level and need for the phone,” but I’m convinced no child needs a phone.  Anyone who is old enough to have a child today is old enough to remember life before cell phones.  We got along just fine without them.  Obviously this is nostalgia taking hold, because I do remember being bored as a kid, but I also remember life being enjoyably simpler and simply more enjoyable.  And not just because I didn’t have adult responsibilities, but because – and this is especially poignant now that we’ve seen the other side – there is something blissful about being completely unavailable to anyone besides the people you are physically with.

Sure – there were times in the pre-cell phone era when emergencies happened and people didn’t find out right away.  I’m not saying cell phones are all bad.  I’m just echoing what I said on Thursday: overall, we need to be more mindful about our phone use.  Especially teenagers, who use their phones mindlessly all day.  My niece just sent a text to Facebook that reads “on my way home. facebook,,IM,,txtin.? yeaa.! btw,,ilyTyler.♥;*”  Yeah, that’s a quote.

Ruth Peters, a child psychologist in Clearwater, Fla., says children are ready for their own phones in middle school, “when they begin traveling alone to and from school, or to after-school activities, and may need to call a parent to change activities at the last minute or coordinate rides.”  Don’t kids ride the bus anymore?  When I was in middle school, getting picked up or dropped off by anyone other than your bus driver was rare.  Nowadays, there are SUVs lined up and down the block(s) in front of schools morning and afternoon.  Are we making life too cushy for our kids?  And inconveniencing ourselves just to look like prize parents?  Maybe as Bethenny Frankel famously told Jill Zarin on Real Housewives of New York, we all need to get a hobby.

Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor at UCLA, cautions parents about giving their kids a phone too young.  “Kids want the phone so that they can have private communication with their peers,” she said.  “You should wait as long as possible, to maintain parent-child communication.”

My niece has a phone mentioned in the article as being attractive to teenagers, the LG enV3.  She says she uses it to text, call, take pictures and video and listen to MP3s.  My sister is aware of my niece’s constant phone use, but says, “At least I know where she is.”  (And then often follows that with a chiding, “You wait til your kid is her age!”)

But back to Mr. Poger, whose 6-year-old daughter now wants a cell phone like her big sister Maya.  “She’s going to wait until she’s 11,” he said.

I didn’t make it to New York until I was a junior in college, and I’ll never forget the impression my first visit left on me.  My boyfriend at the time and I stayed in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights (what did I know of Brooklyn Heights?) and the way the sunlight dappled the streets made me feel like I was in heaven.  I remember being stuck in traffic and watching a black, female police officer directing the cars, thinking, this is where I want to live.  These are my people.

Some things are worth waiting for.

Photo: Pierre LaScott via Flickr

Article Posted 6 years Ago
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