Middle school is a “magical time of human growth and transformation set against the backdrop of adolescent ups and downs,” as the principal of my daughter’s new school described it in his welcome letter. There will be hormones, there will be drama, and, I have come to learn, there will be cell phones. But not in my daughter’s backpack.
We are now two weeks into sixth grade, and the battle for a cell phone is well underway.
Everyone has a cell phone, my daughter tells me. She is the only one in her group of friends who does not have one. She texts me from her friends’ phones during lunch – the only time the students are allowed to use them — about things that could wait, attempting to show me how useful it would be if she had her own phone. She pleads. She threatens to buy one with “her own” money. She collapses onto my bed in sobs one night in a dramatic display of pre-teen emotion.
While I suspect that my daughter isn’t actually the only kid at her school without a phone, I cannot deny that many, if not most, of her fellow classmates do appear to have one. And not just a cell phone, but a smart phone, which, let’s be clear, is what my daughter is after. Preferably an iPhone 6 or 7. A simple flip phone would be worse than no phone at all.
I’ve spoken with a lot of moms and dads who’ve gotten phones for their kids, and most are conflicted, even sheepish, about it. Many say they did so only because it makes life much easier when they can text with their sons and daughters to coordinate plans and pick-ups. And then there are the students who get around the city by themselves on public transportation; for these kids and their parents, the phone provides a reassuring measure of security.
I get this, but at the same time I think back to my own childhood, long before Apple was on the scene, when we were somehow able to manage without the constant communications that people rely on today. Why does it seem so impossible to do so now?
How to regulate our kids’ use of technology is one of the most difficult challenges facing parents these days, and the cell phone is just the next device in a long and increasingly sophisticated parade of devices that now begins practically at birth. Yet the issues are amplified when we give our kids a cell phone, enabling them to be online anywhere and anytime. How do we limit our kids’ use of this technology so that they do not become the screen-addicted zombies so many of their parents have become? How do we protect them from the perils of social media and cyber-bullying? And how do we make and enforce rules around these devices without driving ourselves crazy?
For me, at least for now, the solution is simple and in some ways is the easy way out: I am not giving my daughter a phone. As is the case with junk food, if you don’t have it within easy reach, you won’t consume it. Rather than coming up with elaborate schemes to limit the texting, snapchatting, game-playing and who knows what else may be coming down the pike — schemes which nine times out of ten fail, in my experience — I am refusing to open the Pandora’s Box that once opened cannot be closed. I’m choosing this battle and saying no to all of it for as long as I can.
I am not so naïve as to think I can stand between my daughter and a cell phone forever. I am only buying time. Time for this beautiful, smart, eleven-year-old, with her many interests and talents, to live in this world rather than on a phone. Time to be a kid for a little longer. And time for myself to figure out how to best guide my daughter once I do get her a phone of her own.
She is angry now, but maybe one day she will thank me. And maybe one day, like me, she will wish for a time she never knew, when there were fewer distractions and people were not slaves to a small, rectangular piece of metal and plastic.