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.”


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


March 14, 2010. parenting ain't easy.


  1. Becca replied:

    M got her cell phone when she went to middle school and started taking the bus across town every day. BUT that was three years ago–only two kids had phones in fifth grade, and everyone got them in sixth. I’m guessing it’s different in fifth today, though E will not get a phone till sixth because she doesn’t need one till then.

    As for Facebook, the FB rules say 13, which means to get an account before then, you have to lie about your age, which is not ok with me. M got FB on her 13th birthday (with very clear rules about who she is allowed to friend–has to know them in real life). I figure by the time E is 13, FB will be over, but whatever it is, not till she’s old enough. (I do have friends who say it’s ok to break stupid rules, but I’m really hardcore about lying. Plus, I don’t think it’s such a stupid rule.)

    In other words, you’re not the only one. Hold the line! (And I’m all about buying kids the right jeans and sneakers to fit in, so long as the cost is within reason, but this is different.)

  2. She Started It replied:

    Oh, this post just gives me a migraine, particularly when I think about the fact that by the time my youngest is in 5th grade, they’ll be a whole new slew of technologies far worse than the cell phone to worry about.

  3. Susan replied:

    Wow. What I have to look forward to…..what’s the response to the bullying texts going to be? That seems like such a dangerous dynamic–and it must be hard to deal with kids experiencing these sorts of social pressures. We want them to be more independent, and it’s good that they get independent. But how to navigate these pressures? hard stuff.

  4. landismom replied:

    I’m not that excited about the Peony’s mom’s response to the bullying texts–which seems to be limiting her own daughter’s ability to text, and not confronting the parents of the other girl.

    • Jackie replied:

      We have dealt with some text-bullying issues this year in the 9th grade where I teach, and texting has gotten so pervasive that it’s difficult to eliminate. In other words, I feel your pain and dread the future :).

  5. Susan replied:

    Another complication: how we as parents interact with the parents of the kids involved in the social tensions our own kids experience. There’s an article in the Brain, Child Mag that just arrived about bullying related to toys (in a Hungarian school), and the tensions resolve when the parents band together and adopt some common approaches (forbidding the toy at issue, for one). But that seemed like a remarkably neat and happy ending.

  6. birdonaline replied:

    5th grade!?!?!?! Lord help us!

  7. Ashley replied:

    Nope, no “real” phone for my kids. I have a firefly glophone (ie: I program it, I control it) that my son can take with him whenever he goes somewhere without me (he’s Bee’s age). Doesn’t do anything else. When my son asks when he’ll get his own, I say “when I say you’re old enough” and leave it at that. I know kids in his class (and in my daughter’s, who is 3rd grade) have phones, but mine know they’re out of luck. They also know I won’t break the rules for facebook (which states you have to be at least 13) for them either.

  8. elise replied:

    One of my daughters really wanted a cell phone when she was younger and I got her a pay-as-you-go phone as her main/big birthday present when she was in 7th grade. I guess at the time I reasoned that since I usually get them something for around $100 for their birthdays and this was something that she really, really wanted I left that choice up to her even though I thought it was sort of a dumb choice. Now in tenth grade she mainly uses it for texts so she gets 1000 per month for $10.

    I guess maybe your real concern/question really deals with the issue of you as a parent making choices not based on “what everyone else is doing”. Its hard for me to put my foot down in these situations but in the end it always turns out better. I tend to explain why I chose differently than everyone else and when dealing with my kids, the explanations have helped a lot. Mostly over the years it has been related to how much money I spend on various things. I have explained (and they understand) that my choice of having $0 in credit card debt is better for me than having the thousands of dollars of debt that many people have. I explain that many people choose to have more things instead of less debt and that’s okay for them but not me. I just try to make them realize that they’d be surprised at how much many people owe.

  9. chichimama replied:

    I’m torn. C? I will have no problem handing a phone to him in 5th grade. I know he won’t abuse it, and it will honestly make my life easier as he can just call me when he is done with baseball practice instead of me having to sit there for an hour (or two) as the coach never seems to end when he says he will. Plus, I love my son dearly but he doesn’t have much of a social life that would require the use of a phone to get in touch with friends.

    A? Will not follow the rules, and has a social life that will be problematic with a phone. It will be a battle of the century and she will spend more time without the phone than with I am quite sure. So while I would happily hand C a phone with texting capacity and what not, as honestly I much prefer texting to calling myself, I will have to take into account that whatever I do for him I will have to do for A in two years.

    But, that being said, I will probably get them each a phone with very limited capacity in 5th grade because by that point they will be walking themselves to and from school, to and from friends, etc and I am a worry wart :-). But, it will be a bare bones plan. And I reserve the right to change my mind as it is still three years away :-).

  10. jo(e) replied:

    Parenting just gets more complicated all the time, doesn’t it?

    My older three kids didn’t get cell phones until they were ready to go to college, but we just got my youngest son (who is ninth grade) a cell phone because we decided it was way cheaper to add one more cell phone to the plan and give up the expensive landline. I didn’t want him to be home alone without a phone at all.

    I liked the days of the landline better. When my kids’ friends would call the house, I’d pick up the phone and chat with them for a few minutes. Those days seem to be gone ….

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