kids and phones

I feel like I’ve been telling this story in bits & pieces on various blogs’ comments lately, and it struck me this morning, “Hey, I could write my own post about it!”

The Bee, as my regular readers know, is in fifth grade. As in, still in elementary school. As in, not really that mature or responsible, really (I’m not saying she’s irresponsible for her age–but her age is not known for being extraordinarily forward-thinking).

And yet, of the 18 kids in her class. 15 have cell phones.

If you guessed that one of the three kids with no phone is my kid, you’d be right. You can imagine how popular this makes me, as a parent. The Bee is constantly agitating for a phone of her own. And not just any phone—of course, she wants one that has a texting plan, and internet access, and the ability to watch YouTube, and play games. Like everyone these days, she basically wants a handheld computer.

In fact, I often wonder if anyone in her class ever uses the phone as a phone, since the only uses any of her friends seem to talk about are texting and IMing.

Last weekend, the Peony’s* mom called to talk to me about some concerns she was having about some texts the Peony has been getting from one of the other girls in their class. It seems that this third girl has been sending bullying text messages to the Peony. She asked me if the Bee had said anything about it to me, and I told her that she hadn’t, but I would see if I could get anything out of her about it.

The Bee and I went out to run some errands that afternoon, and I asked her if there was anything going on between the Peony and anyone else in the class. The Bee went off on a half-hour long tirade about the things that were happening between the two girls, and about how she felt caught in the middle. She also started to complain to me that the Peony had been saying things to her every day about how she wished the Bee would get a phone, and how the Peony was telling her that she wasn’t sure they could be friends in middle school, if she didn’t have a phone on the first day, “because we wouldn’t be able to be in touch.”

Woof.

I’m sure that 90% of the reason that the Peony has been asking the Bee when she’s going to get a phone is that she’s tired of not being able to text her best friend, and instead has to text her frenemy. I also think that if the damn parents of everyone in the Bee’s class—including the Peony’s mom— had refused to get their kids cell phones, this keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ would not be hitting my kid so hard (or at least it would be focused on something like who had the good jeans). I also realize that a single mom like the Peony’s may feel differently about the need to be able to reach her kid when they are apart.

But there is a big difference between giving your kid a phone so you can reach them in an emergency, and unleashing your kid with a technology that the kid doesn’t really understand, and isn’t mature enough to deal with, in many circumstances.

I’m often struck by how many people who are not at all tech-savvy give their kid technology without teaching them how to be responsible users of it. We’ve had lots of conversations with the Bee about internet privacy, and I’m still not prepared to have her create a Facebook or MySpace account. She’s 10. She’ll be posting something like, “I hate my brother” every day, and it will live on the internet forever.

But it’s hard to be the hard-liner, when so many other parents are permissive.

*the Peony is the nom-de-blog of the Bee’s best friend, for irregular readers

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March 14, 2010. parenting ain't easy. 11 comments.