Stuff This Mother Says | Cellphone Edition

cell phone

“Well, it’s official,” Mikey said as he slammed the car door. “In June I will be the only boy without a cellphone in my class. Oh, correction. I will be the ONLY STUDENT in my class without a cellphone. This is how awful my life is.”

“Well,” I said, turning right out of the parking lot. “Look at the bright side. When you’re in the 7th and 8th grade and still the only student in your class without a cellphone, you’ll already be used to how awful your life is.”


I listen to advice. Always have, always will. I don’t know it all, don’t want to know it all, and welcome all salient tips from those willing to share. In November2015, I made a comment on instagram about kids and cellphones. Beth Lehmanshared a comment (and follow up email) that has stayed with me ever since. Paraphrasing: wait as long as you can to give your kidtheir own gadgets because it is easier to refuse now than it is to limit later.

I thought this was great advice, and I’ve stuck to it, even when Mikey comes home telling me stories about his classmates and everything he is missing. “You have to be on group text,” a classmatetold him. “Otherwise, you don’t know what people are saying about you.”

That sweet, naive classmate thinks that if it isn’t said in group text, it isn’t said anywhere. If only wishing could make it so, buddy.

We keep myold phones. Nico has my old iphone 4, and Mikey has my old iphone 5. They use them to play games (Plants v. Zombies and my brother’s game) on long car drives and whenthey catch us in a rare,generous mood. Nico will ask if he can play more often than Mikey because heis an optimist. Both know to bring a book with them before we leave the house.

Mikey doesn’t need to text his friends about homework or school–the answer to any question he may have is available through one of the school’s countless online channels. He doesn’t walk home from school. He doesn’t travel between homes. He isn’t in aftercare. He doesn’t need a phone like another kid might. He wants a phone because, as we all know, phones are awesome. They are also convenient, efficient, useful, practical, and horribly addictive. I hate how tethered I am to my phone, how it’s always there, and I don’t want that for my boys.

The other day, as I was walking into Faith Formation (I teach 6th – 8th grade), I dropped my phone in the parking lot. I had no idea until I walked into the building and couldn’t find my phone. I rushedback outside, but I was too late. Someone drove over my phone. It was a shattered, powdery mess. Adults and children hovered around me and my phone as if it were an injured animal. There were actual outcries of anger and despair. People “couldn’t believe someone would do that to me” and gave me conciliatory pats on my back. I would have rolled my eyes at all the dramatics but I was too busy thinking how could someone do this to me?

You better believe I paid my deductible and had a new phone in less than 48 hours. If I can’t manage controlled use, how can I expect itof two kids with still-developing brains subject to addiction? I can’t. Instead, I pretend I’m confident in my convictions, keep asking advice, and try to give them the best “awful” life possible while I scramble for the answers.

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  1. My daughter has a phone (an old phone of ours, she had a slider till this year when she upgraded to an old iphone because of straight a’s through middle school). Her ability to use it for anything but texting and calling is severely limited by us, just 15 minutes a day of instagram, which she only got this year. The group texting was huge in 6th grade as everyone got phones (they all walk about a mile to school and I’m not always home when she gets here), but died off as the novelty of having them did. Or I think it did. She doesn’t group text now, maybe they all just got used to her not being able to and wrote her off and I’ve ruined her life forever. She can just add that to the therapy bill 🙂

  2. My daughter is in 8th grade. My son is in 5th grade. Neither have a cell phone of their own. I do have a second cell phone for them to use to call me from the house if they are home alone while I’m running to the store. Or they take it with them when they are out riding their bikes. They do not take it to school. They have no need to. It also has zero bells and whistles. I even have the data turned off, so they can only text or call.
    My daughter does have an iPod with an Instagram account. When we started the account for her, I went over the rules with her. No selfies, no personal information. She posts pictures of her artwork and photos that she takes of nature and weather. Luckily, she’s a smart girl and understands why I don’t want her sharing her entire life online. Her classmates DM about schoolwork and other things through Instagram. My daughter participates in that. As graduation approaches, the messaging has ramped up. The girls discuss dresses for graduation.
    Next year, when my daughter starts high school, I’ll get her a phone to have with her all day at school. She’s moving from a small Catholic school to a public high school. I want her to be able to reach me if something happens.
    I agree with you that we should hold off as long as possible in having our children plugged in all the time. Video games are bad enough. They don’t need a phone attached to their hands 24/7.

  3. Our son got a $90 Android phone with Ting service when he was going into sixth grade at the beginning of this school year. He can only text and call on it. He needs WiFi to do anything else. It is a huge convenience for me — he is at middle school while his sister is still in elementary, and it helps me to be able to text him after school with pick-up changes (Ryan’s mom is going to pick you up today!).

    Also, I guess I’m of the school of thought that I’d rather give him a phone with training wheels while he’s this age. By the time he’s in high school, of course I’ll still be his parent, but in my experience he’ll be out of the house more than he’s home (sports, choir, whatever he does in high school). At this age I am very open about monitoring all his activity and we can talk about it. Was it a good idea for that kid to say/send that thing in the text thread? Why or why not? What are the possible repercussions?

    It probably also helps that my kids doesn’t have the slightest interest in Instagram or Snapchat. But just texting? It’s not so different from passing notes or calling on the phone. I want my kid to learn how to handle it intelligently while I’m still watching.

    I do admire you for being able to hold out, though. I think that in and of itself can be a good lesson for kids!

  4. While I was reading this, I kept thinking how the more things change the more the stay the same. I NEEDED a phone in my bedroom. Preferably my own line. But AT LEAST the ability to use our house phone for more than 15 minutes a day! My parents, however, firmly believed that anything that needed saying could be said during the hours at school so there was no need to tie up our phone line. While my friends would come to school sharing the conversations they had, I was busy – reading a book (or dusting the living room because my parents were the WORST).

    I can’t agree with your friend, Beth, enough. A well meaning person who will not be named thought it appropriate to gift our kids their own iPad mini’s without talking to us about it first a few years ago. I haven’t always been as annoyed by them as I am today (10 hour car trip to Michigan? Who knew it could be so easy?), but the constant vigilance required so my children don’t spend every single waking second staring at a screen is exhausting. And how CRABBY they are with everyone after too much screen time (I know you talked about this before.)

  5. oh, jules… like i said on IG. i still feel this way. i don’t have many regrets about my parenting except this. it is so much harder to police their technology time than i ever thought it would be. even with them making and signing their own contract, there’s a constancy on their part to want more – always more. just a few more minutes. out of my three children only one has continued to read like she used to. i have to cajole the other two to read books. as soon as they are bored they pick up their own device or use the desktop. the younger two do not even have phone usage – just old iphones that they can use in the house with wifi. it’s not a phone per se… it’s a gadget. we did buy and install a device made my disney to limit screen time. it’s had it’s own issues, but it has helped us curtail some of their screen time. it’s not foolproof, though. at the heart of this lies the issue of self-control and how on earth to teach it.

  6. Oh boy, am I interested to read the opinions on this one. I have twins entering middle school next year. My daughter could care less about having a phone, my son is all over “needing” one. And he is the one for whom I did NOT take my older siblings’ advice (to delay giving him any gaming access as long as possible) and who is now completely about jumping from Minecraft on the laptop to the DS to the Wii – and making me the gaming ‘police’ as a result. Plus, to complicate matters, at the middle school orientation it was mentioned that there will be science lessons via their phones (though I think only occasional and optional). One thing about which I AM certain is that they don’t need a cellphone as a “safety” device for walking home. If I gave them a phone, my son would immediately usurp it and be looking down at it constantly, thus reducing his safety, and his sister’s – I’m quite sure she could be carried off yelling and screaming and he wouldn’t notice.

  7. One of my kids has a learning disability that requires him to use a computer for school (purchased through school and with school-installed safeguards against inappropriate sites, etc). It has access to the internet because school assignments are used on GoogleDrive. While the computer has been a fabulous resource for school-related work, it is also the BANE OF MY LIFE. My kid hasn’t really discovered the social media uses yet, but we fight endlessly over video game usage.

    I wrote a really really long comment about how difficult policing the video games is, and deleted it because I sound like a shrill harpy. Regardless, I hate the computer and its effect on my child. The moment school is out the computer will be going to live at my husband’s office for the summer.

    A few months ago I hid of all the tablets and ipads; they are no longer available for child use unless we are traveling internationally. I am very happy with the results. I kept the tv and put half hour per day viewing restrictions on it, but only because my husband wants to watch tv. I think I am soon going to restrict the tv to only Saturday mornings, as the age difference between my three kids means they squabble endlessly about what to watch. I would happy to donate the tv.

    I am of two minds about the phones. No way will my kids get one before high school. However, I feel like there does need to be some training wheels, as it were, where I need to teach them about social media and its pitfalls. , On the other hand, I’d be fine with them not actually having a phone till they are seniors. Or dumb phones, with just calling and text capability. But yeah, my kids are also in the “my life sucks because I don’t have a phone” club and will be members for a very long time.

    • We got rid of cable about seven years ago because I was trying to trim expenses after getting furloughed at work. IT WAS THE BEST DECISION EVER. I’ve often said that I wouldn’t have ‘regular’ TV again if it were free. It made all of our lives so much better (well, especially mine (-: ). And I say that as someone who was a complete “TV generation” addict for basically my whole life up until that point. We do watch programs via the computer, but it is more of an intentional, group decision as a result. At any rate, I keep reminding myself of those happy results as I contemplate the video game/cellphone situation. It really helps to read that others struggle with this also.

  8. Loving all the input here – it’s a definite struggle…my 7th grader has a phone that goes into my hand the minute he gets home – and it has come in handy a few times when he’s decided to stay late for tutoring…he also knows I will check it at any time.

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