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.
Valerie Mendenhall says
My mom and brother are the types to not turn on their cell phones until/unless they want to make a call. This is a CONOPS ill suited for a cell phone owner much less a smart phone user. Please get Pippa a smart phone! If price is an object, give her an opportunity to earn money to go toward the bill. They have a myriad of uses beyond social (texting).
Yup, Pippa is off and running with hers now, and she is pretty good at responding to calls/texts.
Queen Mum says
I agree that a smart phone is smart. They are indeed multi-purpose — unlike the water bed that one of my children pined for (and never got). I don’t think of myself as a gadget person, but I love mine, and it has given me much comfort in numerous iffy situations. The latest one of those being unexpectedly finding myself alone in a third world country (a story in itself!). But my experience has been that kids can and will text endlessly about nothing if given the opportunity. Like the old-fashion passing of notes in study hall? So for a young first-time owner there may need to be a few basic rules at the outset, like turning it off in the evening until homework is done.
I’ve heard water beds are very soothing!
Queen Mum says
Soothing until they spring a leak and bring down the ceiling on the first floor. Also not to be advised for those prone to sea sickness!
Chris Salamone says
very interesting post share. my first phone dad gift my 14th birthday. Thanks for sharing.
Our oldest is only 2 years old, so I (thankfully) still have a few years left to make this decision. If it was me, she wouldn’t have a phone until she started driving.
Of course, we don’t have a landline like my parents did so it might be sooner depending on if we leave them alone while we go to the store, etc.
We're All Poor Here says
My first phone was a car phone. It was huge. Came in a bag. Even had a cord…
I love this post! Similar to the entitlement issue we were discussing. I feel waiting til 16 will have taught her how valuable a tool it can be for things like planning airport pickups. Sometimes we take for granted how useful phones are in our everyday life. I also believe it takes time to transition into having a device that does so much. To truly find the balance. Hope to hear an update on how this goes!