The Right Time For A Kid’s Phone

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - June 07, 2006
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We gave our son a cell phone for his 12th birthday because, quite frankly, I like being able to reach him at any time, and I want him to be able to reach me. He was thrilled, and I worried he would go crazy with the calling and the ring tones and the games.

But I was pleasantly surprised. The first thing he discovered, of course, was the games, and downloaded one right away. But when I explained that they cost money and that he would have to pay, that was it. He bought one more, then stopped. Same with ring tones. He just doesn’t want to shell out the cash.

I had worried that he would go crazy with the minutes, but he is very careful and watches his time like a hawk. And since he and I share a family plan, he watches me like a hawk, too. Suddenly he is the phone policeman, reminding me that I have been talking “for 20 whole minutes!”

How cute, he’s worried my verbosity will cost him money. Who knew I was raising such a frugal boy?

A lot of parents are asking the same question: When is the right time to give a child a phone? My son asked for one a year ago because, he said, a lot of his friends had them. We said no then, but decided he should get one on his next birthday. Does a 12-year-old really need a cell phone? That’s debatable. A lot of folks would argue that’s still a bit too young.

But in New York, parents put up a big fuss when the schools banned their kids’ phones. Quite understandable, I think, in a city traumatized by the horrific events of 9-11. On that day a cell phone was either a lifeline or a messenger of death. It became the only link many terrified people had to loved ones who survived - and those who didn’t.

I understand parents who feel their kids don’t need and shouldn’t have cell phones. I happen to fall into the opposite camp. I am reassured by the thought that my child is just a call away. I like the fact that he can contact me in an emergency. He’s learning phone etiquette, too, an added bonus.

One thing he doesn’t do (so far) is chat. The cell, to him, is simply a cool and useful instrument, and he doesn’t understand why anyone would even want to waste 20 minutes on a call. Maybe it’s a guy thing, and that’s good. I really don’t want him to pick up his mom’s bad habits.

I see the cell phone as just another accouterment of everyday life, like computers. They are annoying, ubiquitous and absolutely essential. But since many of us are providing our children with this tool, let’s make sure we also teach them the cell phone’s proper place in our lives.

That means teaching them where and when not to use them - on the road, in the theater, in a restaurant. Our kids also have to learn that the people they are interacting with face-to-face are more important than the person calling them on their phone.

If they absorb these lessons, we might actually raise a generation of kids who are more polite and more phone savvy than most of their parents are today.

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