Why you should wait to give your child a cell phone
Author: Richard Singleton
Those who’ve read more than one or two of my articles will know that I spend a lot of time musing about my childhood. For me, childhood is a warehouse of vivid memories – funny, dangerous, happy, good memories.
In the early 80s pocket calculators were selling for $2-$3, a shocking drop from the early 70s when they sometimes went for well over the average week’s pay. Well, it was about 1980 and I landed a little white Sharp calculator. You would have thought that someone had just given me the keys to Magnum P.I.’s Ferrari. This was a space-age leap for a six year old; I was on the electronic cutting edge.
Oh, how times have changed!
Recently, I was glued to the TV, imbibing a near-toxic dose of football and Facebook when something struck me about a new telecommunications commercial that was making its rounds. Promoting a program that allows new lines to be added for kids for free, a nationally known cell company artfully used cute kids to make the point – kids, even young ones, can be trusted with cell phones.
Clearly, this company understands the misgivings and challenges that come with children having cell phones. They’re spending big bucks to convince parents that their kids will live up to promises that have become burned into their gray matter. No wonder; according to Wayne Parker, an About.com writer, a whopping twenty-five percent of wireless revenue comes from tweens and teens. It’s a cash crop, and someone plans on harvesting it.
Hence the commercial – “the oath.”
The commercial begins with cute kids proclaiming their willingness, ability, and prowess to take “the oath.” These are the promises:
1) “I will always answer calls from people paying the bills,”
2) “I will not use the phone’s camera capability to bring shame upon
3) “I promise to keep things peachy,”
4) “Sometimes I’ll call you just to say hi,”
5) “I will not text while driving or operating heavy machinery, ”
6) “No more ringtones with nasty lyrics,”
7) “I promise to keep things PG [whispers] 13.”
You have to admit that the commercial is cute and clever, but before I go further, something deep inside of me is begging to go country for a second. In the words of George Strait, “I got some ocean front property in Arizona. If you’ll buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.”
It’s not that I don’t believe that kids can be trustworthy. They can. And, it’s not that I think cell phone companies shouldn’t sell their services to parents who want their kids to have cell phones. They should. Rather, in a world where cell phones for kids are as common now as Bubble Yum was a couple of decades ago, I want to champion the reality that commercials are just that, commercials, and that kids are just that, kids. We need to make sure that our kids are safe with their phones if they are granted the privilege of having them. So, pardon the construction while I build a little soap box:
Kids earn privileges.
Despite the cajoling, begging and whining, no matter the promises and oaths, kids must establish the responsibility to have a phone. Phones don’t come with age; they come with accountability. If you’re still the one having to remind your son to brush his teeth and to feed the dog, there’s no way he’s ready for a phone. And, if you’re setting curfew at 10:00 p.m. and your new driver is rolling in at 10:30 p.m., adding a phone to the mix is not a safe, healthy idea. Kids are far more likely to be hurt in an accident because of phone abuse than to be hurt by being broken down on the side of the street without a cell phone to call home. Responsibility is demonstrated, not promised.
Parents set boundaries. I’ve consistently taught, counseled, and promoted the concept of boundaries – clear limits, expectations, and loving consequences. Millions of teens are texting while driving and there’s a rising risk of cyber-bullying with tweens and teens and their – ahem — “smart” phones. Parents have to set the expectations for safety and propriety and the consequences for dangerous and damaging behaviors. Don’t give ground here. Love is bold.
Parents and kids enjoy the amazing technological revolution. When I got that calculator back in ’80, I beamed. I thought I had landed on the moon. I can’t wait for the day when my daughter and son are responsible enough to have phones. I want them to bask in the joys of technology. But to fully enjoy the benefits, I know they have to understand the risks and they have to be trustworthy enough to face those risks with good judgment.
With my daughter starting middle school this year, I’m starting the see the value of having her electronically connected to the family, but I can’t let my heart win the argument that the commercials are selling. It has to be my head that guides the decision. And it has to be her head and not her heart that shows the responsibility for us to make that trip to the store and pick out a cool new gadget. I’ll want her to get the one with all the cool apps; she’ll want the one that has a cute puppy dog case. What a blessed life we live!