Until this month, Pippa, our oldest, didn’t have a cell phone. We got her an entry level smart phone for her 16th birthday. In most U.S. families today, that advanced “first phone” age classifies as child abuse.
When does a kid “need” their own phone? A recent NPR interview says 10(!) is a typical take-the-plunge age, but the interviewee admits it varies from family to family.
Or within a family. Our family member takes in a nutshell:
Nora: I don’t have a cell phone so you don’t need one. Besides, don’t you have a Kindle?
Pippa: I don’t know anyone in my high school who doesn’t have a smart phone. The Kindle’s OK, but it only works on Wi-Fi, it has limited apps, and I can’t text with it.
Grey: When do I get a phone?!?
Me (to Grey): Forget about it kid – Pippa doesn’t have a phone and she’s a couple years older than you.
Me (to Pippa): In due time, sweetie. It’s not always good to get what you want when you want it. God always answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is No or Not Now.
Me (to Nora): I know you and I didn’t have cell phones as kids, but that was a different time. Do you think we’re crimping her social development? Then, using desperate voice: I won’t let her go to college without a cell phone – she’d be seen as a freak!
Nora knows her view isn’t mainstream, but she thinks there are advantages to the sans phone condition. We’ve saved a chunk of change, of course. She’s also told Pippa that her phone-less suffering would make a compelling college entrance essay. And God knows how much time Pippa spends on her Kindle already – would mobilizing her addiction make things worse? (Simon Sinek says phones are like drugs for teens.)
Maybe, but coordinating with Pippa was starting to be a pain in the butt, like having a second difficult-to-reach Nora. I remember the loneliness I felt when Pippa broke her arm in second grade and I couldn’t reach Nora. I didn’t need her – it doesn’t take more than one person to drive to the hospital after all – but it would have been reassuring having Nora riding shotgun, or at least chattering away in my ear via bluetooth.
Besides emergencies, some things are tailor-made for mobile communication – like airport pick ups. Meeting Nora at Baltimore-Washington International Airport after a solo flight takes more planning than some weddings. Where and when do we meet, and what happens if one of us is late?
Then again, some people just aren’t meant to have a cell phone. A few years ago, with her permission, I set Nora up with a cheap-o Walmart TracFone. I purchased the handset, loaded minutes and months onto it, charged it up, and hand-delivered it.
It was a total disaster. She couldn’t keep track of it (no pun intended), it was never on unless she wanted to make a call, and she couldn’t bother to charge it. A couple months into the experiment, I quietly slipped the device into a drawer, and that was the end of it.
I predict that Pippa’s new phone will spend a grand total of zero minutes in a drawer. Unless we have to take it away from her for overuse.