By Stacey Ross
Have you ever been on the fence about something and your kid can sniff out your slightest vulnerability and at just the most opportune time pop it to ya? Then your well-intentioned chitchat that you presume you can wrap up in a bow in less than ten minutes turns into a family affair that lasts for two hours and twenty-five minutes – and is to be continued!
Has the topic-at-hand centered around your kiddo getting his or her own phone before you think he or she is ready for such a big step? Phew, then I am not alone!
But Mom, everyone has one!
We, as parents, often have an internal dialogue: our “permissive parent” voice (as long as the kids are happy) vs. our “authoritarian parent” voice (“Because I said so, is why; end of story!”). And sometimes the most difficult role to assume is standing our ground firmly and mustering up something like, “I realize that you think everyone else has one, but the reality is that my decision is not going to change based on what ‘everyone else’ is doing, but we will re-evaluate as time progresses.” Not too harsh, not too soft, just right – at least for starters!
A helpful exercise
I decided to try that hat on in a very methodical, yet open way in the form of an exercise this past week. My eleven-year-old is over-the-top eager to have her own phone, but merely a phone on-hand for emergency calls won’t cut it.
It is important to note a little background 411 here: I drop my kid off at school daily, pick her up, and personally take her to all her extra-curricular events, classes, recitals and tournaments (along with her brother, who is just happy with a Rainbow Loom, but I digress…). She has a landline nearby whenever I am not present, which translates into supervising adults, as well. But back to the exercise…
It gets a kid thinking about her needs vs. wants and clearly reveals her level of maturity in the process (a prerequisite for the privilege at-hand). It empowers the kid by indirectly having her grasp the reality that she needs to reflect on your parental values and ultimate make the decision herself. (Yes, it’s manipulative but effective!)
So I asked my girl to write five attributes that a kid should possess and regularly demonstrate in order for her parents to consider getting her a phone. I can almost guarantee you that, unless there is a very viable need for one, most kids will overemphasize their reasons for their wanting rather than needing a phone. What also might come out in the wash is the reality that they already have those features on their tablets, iPods or home computers.
The road to a smartphone
In our situation, it comes down to our girl’s desire to have a way to remotely communicate with her buddies in between school and pick-up and in between her homework time and her sports or dance activities, where she will most likely see them anyway. She wants to have all the “cool” apps and phone and texting abilities, and the ability to take photos and videos at the drop of a hat. Rite of passage to some, an earned privilege for others! After going over her list, I wrote a new list using her and my ideas, emphasizing that the number one reason to get a phone is when she truly needs one! I posted it on the magnetic board in the kitchen:
1. Our family needs/wants you to have access to us and your closest friends and family members.
2. We have an affordable plan.
3. Your phone features will be age-appropriate. (Access to social media, texting friends, data plan, etc. will all evolve over time). So long as you are a kid, your phone will have filters and monitors, so your parents will be aware of everything you send out and receive.
4. You have proven your responsibility around the house. (Trust, respect and maturity help earn such a great privilege).
5. You demonstrate to us that your life is enhanced by having access to such a privilege.
Ah…. um…. we have some ways to go!
All in due time
Presently, I am okay if my kid has to wait an extra five minutes when I am picking her up from dance without the need to call to check where I am. What a good exercise it is to go to the school office if she forgets her lunch at home! What if she has to deal with the consequences of her forgetfulness without having Mommy make everything better?
The first year of middle school is not the most opportune time to bring on yet another responsibility, at least in my girl’s scenario. To have instant access to a video game fix on-the-go, or to remotely pass notes all day hardly builds character! I know what a distraction my phone can be, but I have come to depend on it like a personal assistant. Somehow, I have come to need my phone to remind me to stay on a task that interestingly enough the same contraption lures me away from!
“But what about when we get separated in the shopping isles, Mom? Or remember that time at the school fair when you couldn’t find me? And a lot of my friends have Instagram and just change their names…” Again, a little bit of creative problem solving can go a long way without having a parent there to rescue the kids at any given moment. Ironically, these little gadgets don’t always encourage kids to become more independent; rather, they have the tendency to foster more dependence!
No matter how you slice it, I want this stage of my girl’s young life to not be centered around the seductions of the smartphone. As it is, I am quite aware that we parents, despite our great intentions, are not really aware of all that our kids are up to with their little mini-computers and texting devices. A couple of years from now we will see a shift in privileges, responsibilities and trust, but frankly, kids running around with access to all they have scares me. Kids are presumed trustworthy far, far, far too early on, and that is about all I am going to leak on that Wrecking Ball note (oops!).
As much as I realize that my girl wishes to feel the joy of fitting in and experiencing the gratification of texting and calling her friends up while she is in route to this or that event, or feeling “in” because after class she can search the net for her school projects or personal interests, or take lovely pre-teen selfies while she waits for me to pick her up after soccer, I remind myself that those are the precise things that I want her doing in front of an adult and on our terms. Like training wheels.
Ah, the joys of parenting in the age of tech! Sometimes the “No, and that’s my final answer!” approach seems far more simple. What say you?
Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.