Kids and Cell Phones.
by Abby Margolis Newman
I've been struggling for months now with the idea of whether to buy a cellphone for my 11-year-old son, Henry, so it was with great interest that I read the recent article in the New York Times entitled, "When to Buy Your Child a Cellphone." To be honest, I was hoping that the gist of the article would be, for Henry, "Not Yet!" - I've consistently felt that fifth grade is too young for cellphones - but the reality is that a cellphone wave is a-coming straight toward his peer group, and I need to decide whether to let Henry ride it or let it crash over his head.
When Henry was in fourth grade, exactly one child got a phone that year - and it was an iPhone. Once I got over the initial shock, I thought, OK: a) if any kid was going to get a cellphone in fourth grade, this would be the kid; and b) it's an anomaly. By fifth grade, it seemed that everything had changed. In November we attended Henry's "Back to School Night," and his teacher informed the assembled parents that approximately 50% of the kids had cellphones. My jaw literally dropped. Half the kids?! Now, at the end of his fifth-grade year, Henry's teacher tells me that percentage has risen to over 70%.
With our older two boys, my husband and I agreed that it would make sense for them to have cellphones starting in middle school. They would be riding their bikes to school every day, and we wanted them to have a way to call us if a bike broke down - or, as happened a couple of years ago, if one of them should happen to get hit on his way home (very gently) by a car driven by a kindly octogenarian. Since this was around 2006-2007, texting wasn't an issue because texting didn't exist yet. The boys barely used their phones during those years.
2010 is, as everyone knows, another story. In the New York Times article, Stefanie Olsen writes, "Parents generally say they buy their child a phone for safety reasons, because they want to be able to reach the child anytime. . . But for children, it is all about social life and wanting to impress peers." And it's all about texting. "Experts say the social pressure to text can get acute by the sixth grade," reports Olsen, "when most children are 11 years old."
Good god. Why do 11-year-olds need to text? And about what? Our two older boys did not text until high school. OK, if I'm honest with myself I must admit that the advent of texting coincided with their time in high school, but still. I have spent the last few months in frequent arguments with Henry, all of which go something like this:
Henry: Mom, when can I get a cell phone?
Me: Middle school.
Henry: Can't I have one now? A lot of kids already have them.
Me: No. You don't need one.
Henry: When I get it, can I have texting?
Me: No. You don't need texting in sixth grade, that's ridiculous.
Henry: Yes I do! Everyone else has texting - if I don't have it, I'll be totally out of it and feel like a dork.
Me: (Guilt-ridden silence.)