Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cell Phones for Kids

I used to be sure that I wouldn't let my kids have a cell phone until, well, maybe never. My step-daughter got her cell phone at around 8 years old and I was appalled. Recently, with Hanover approaching almost 10, I have changed my mind.

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.


Monica said...

Great post, Kim. (I hope you and Jenn never take your stuff down off the web, because I'll definitely want to go through it in detail when I decide to have a kid!)

In the past I've been opposed to cell phones for kids. Mostly, I just get annoyed with teenagers who can't seem to do without them and run up their parents' bill. This is the case with my niece. However, that's a problem with enforcement and parents not putting their foot down, I think. The minute cards are a great idea, especially for tweens. It makes them responsible for how much time they use. And really, isn't responsibility sorely needed today among kids? And it WOULD be handy to be able to reach your kid in so many circumstances, as you clearly point out in the last paragraph.

Totally aside from the issue of kids, I now feel mixed on the cell phone for myself. I wrote a sarcastic post on cell phones some time back:

That post had mainly to do with my gripe against cell phones as tools for the non-committal, insecure, and the dependent. However, I think that's got a lot more to do with the type of people that rely on them too much, not the device itself. Thankfully, loud and annoying cell phone use in public seems to have dwindled a bit. People seem to have gotten more polite about the way they use these phones.

I have a cell phone -- again -- at the insistence of my fiance. *sigh* It is handy, I admit. We can catch up on what the other needs to buy at the store, whether we want to meet for lunch quickly while I'm out running errands, etc. He's practically the only one I talk to on my cell phone. Could I do without it and feel more independent without it? Yes. (In fact, that's my main gripe against a cell phone for *myself.* In fact, considering that, maybe it's even more appropriate for kids than for adults. LOL.) But this isn't too much of an issue now that I have a new plan and the people who used to call me all the time for totally inconsequential things, running up my minutes, don't call me anymore. I've reached some happy medium. And I admit, it's fun once a month or so to call up a friend while I'm in the car. And that saves time. It sounds like this could definitely be a useful tool for Hanover. (And more for you, though she doesn't realize it. muahahahahahah!)

Still, the single most common tool I use on my phone is the calculator. The calendar is also awesome. :)

Amy said...

I love this analysis. The whole time I was reading it I was wondering, "but what about the cost?" Sounds like you found a great solution to that.

Rational Jenn said...

I used to think I'd never do a lot of things as a parent. Famous last words! :o)

I think we'll handle things in a similar fashion when my kids reach this stage. Definitely a good expense to fall under the Use Your Allowance Category!

Interesting post, thanks.

Daryl Cobranchi said...

Our homeschooled teens each has a phone. Pre-paid ( We put $10/month on it so that we know they have enough minutes to call us in an emergency. Everything beyond that $10 is their responsibility. So far, neither has had to spend a nickel of their own money.

Kim said...

"In the past I've been opposed to cell phones for kids. Mostly, I just get annoyed with teenagers who can't seem to do without them and run up their parents' bill. This is the case with my niece. However, that's a problem with enforcement and parents not putting their foot down, I think."

I think you are absolutely correct. If a kid is chained to their cell phone, then a short lesson in manners, something a bit more fun (hopefully a higher priority for the kid), and perhaps a temporary removal in order to help the kid realize that there is life beyond their electronic tether, seems to be in order. When my step-daughter spends a lot of time in her room talking to her boyfriend (it's true love, donchaknow), my husband and I discuss whether it's an issue (sometimes it is) and if it is we are proactive in getting out for some sort of family thing (which could just be cooking lunch together, yardwork, or a video).

The pay-as-you-go phones are a little confusing (some part of the card goes to service, texting can be covered separately).