I've been trying to figure out just why I was against cell phones. Was I against my daughter being able to call her friends? Definitely not. I'd practically beg her to phone her friends. Was I against technology? Certainly not. She already has a digital camera (her second, actually), a Game Boy, and a media player (video, pictures, songs).
Was I against them just because I assumed children would be too irresponsible to have them? She hasn't lost, broken, or destroyed any of her other equipment. She did not use those other devices in lieu of work or other responsibilities (just see how fast I'd snatch that stuff away if she shirked because of them). Did I think she would have too much privacy and do something stupid because I wasn't overseeing her use of it? I know it's not in vogue, but I think my daughter should be able to make some mistakes. I also can see a difference between stupidity (like taking a picture of your heiney just because you can) and porn. I think she should be able to make stupid mistakes while she's at home so I can help her realize how stupid they are.
Plus, we discuss guidelines for safety before she starts some new venture. Generally, once Hanover hears a rule-cum-strongly-worded-advice and the reason for it, she's very reliable. She is also not concrete-bound. She can figure out that if I say 'don't take naked pictures of your butt,' I also mean, 'don't take naked pictures of any part of you normally covered by clothing and don't take naked pictures of other people's butts either.' I can imagine that there could be kids who would spend time talking to inappropriate people. Although I can't imagine my daughter doing such things, she's not yet a loner and I will, at this point in her life, know more than I ever want or need to know about who she's talking to. Perhaps this will be something to revisit when/if she ever becomes a hermit in her room.
I think that leaves me with feeling that some things should be saved for adults or close to adult-age, and extravagance and being spoiled.
Should cell phones not be used until kids are nearer to an adult? By the time a kid is 16 they get to drive. That seems pretty darn responsible. Way more involved that owning a cell. So a cell phone would definitely come before car in the pyramid of adding responsibility and freedom for kids as they transition into their own. What about high school? By the time a kid is 14, they are making decisions about whether or not to go to college or get a job right out of high school and get vo-tech training to make that possible. That is very serious; taking responsibility for choosing and working toward a big part of their future. So I think owning a cell phone falls lower on the responsibility ladder.
I think cell phones could easily be given to kids in middle school. Middle-schoolers need to be responsible for their own schedule, getting to classes on time, remembering homework and books, going to dances for fun (at least in my middle school), puberty for most girls. A lot of responsibility and at a level that definitely fits in with cell phone ownership--or even ownership of any expensive gadget. Can I think of any other defining factors to help me decide? Not right now.
In thinking of the extravagance view, all of Hanover's other technology gifts were one-time expenditures no more than $100. About what I budget for birthdays and "big" Christmas presents. Cell phones, as I had initially conceived of them, were an initial expenditure--possibly free if you renew for a full-term contract--and $10 or more (especially if the kid goes over the minutes) a month, if added to a family plan, for the duration that the kid has the phone. Which would be many, many years when you start early. That becomes a very large monetary value, especially when you realize, as my step-daughter did, that you don't get cut off when you go over your limits on minutes--they just keep racking up at the $.40 a minute rate.
The plan of a friend of mine helped me to see this aspect quite differently. She bought her son a pay-as-you-go phone. If you are not familiar with it, the phones are bought separately from a plan. Then, to talk on the phone, separate cards are purchased to buy air-time--I assume for talking or data(?). In her case, the phone itself was a present and her son was responsible for buying any time using allowances or other sources of income. Now that was an idea with appeal.
So after much thought and a great idea gleaned from another mother's experience, since Hanover has asked for a cell phone for her 10th birthday, her father and I have agreed to buy her a pay-as-you-go phone and explained to her that she would be responsible for buying any time she needed. She can also hope for minute cards as gifts. She is perfectly accepting of this situation and thrilled at the idea.
On a side note, I did not even think of the practical implications that cell phones have. I can call her all the time. She doesn't know that yet! I can trust that she has a way to get in touch with me should we be separated for any reason. If I drop her off at a lesson, I know that she can call me if something comes up--like getting dismissed early. These are all asides compared to figuring out the more fundamental reason I had my initial revulsion to the idea.