Eldest is thirteen and a half years old, and following a very emotional conversation last weekend, I have made what is for me a huge decision. I am allowing him to have a mobile phone.
Now. I know that most parents today give their children phones much much earlier than this. Nearly all of Sweet Girl’s friends have phones, and I believe that even some of Little Man’s classmates have them.
But for me, it is a cost that they have little way of being aware of, and the responsibility of such an item is rather a long way off. They have no need of one in terms of safety since they are always under the care of a responsible adult (or at school). And I am not really keen to fund a plethora of meaningless texts that could so easily lead to misunderstandings and rifts in precious friendships.
I accept that in this day and age, especially when Little Teens are heading out to secondary school on their own, or in a small group of friends, the mobile phone gives us parents a sense of security. A little leash in fact, to enable us to keep tabs on our babies. But actually, that’s really rather ephemeral. Because how many times have you called someone, only to get a busy signal, or a voicemail message? That’s annoying at the best of times, but if that person is your child? And if the reason you are calling is because you are concerned about their whereabouts? Can you imagine the panic and worry that will then besiege you? Quite worse that if there were no phone to call, I feel. Not to mention the fury at having provided a means of contact (at parental expense in the vast majority of cases), only to have the progeny “forget” said phone, or “forget” to turn it on, or “forget” to keep it charged… I feel friction coming on!
From this you may gather that I am not a great fan of mobile phones for kids.
On the other hand, in the last two weeks, two children aged ten and eleven, on two completely separate occasions have been approached by strange middle aged men. The police have been involved but no arrests have so far been made. I do not believe our world is much different now than it was in the past, but we live in a time of heightened awareness of the ugly underbelly of humanity in the midst of our “civilised” society.
Will a phone protect my daughter should someone try to abduct her? Realistically, given her emotional and social skills, no. At best she might be able to turn it on or send an SOS. Even were she able to, that would not guarantee her safety. But the thought of the mobile phone as security is powerful indeed. It ties us to others, makes us feel attached and rids us of a feeling of isolation and loneliness.
As parents, the mobile phone gives us the false sense that we can “let them go”, without really doing so. It is a strange beast that gives us the confidence to tell our Young that we trust them, all the while denying that trust because we attach this leash to it. Yet in our day and age, the thought of being utterly untethered to that virtual community is unfathomable.
The mobile phone is part of “modern” life. (Golly, I’m sounding old, even to myself!)
Enough of the soapbox.
There is a possibility that Eldest will lose a very close friend in the next few months, as he may be changing schools. Whether this will come to pass or not, I have no idea. But the reality is that people move, and he is having to come to terms with the possible loss of someone dear to him. There is no real chance of continuing that relationship through home life, and so Eldest was very upset that he would have no means of keeping in touch.
(Yes, those of you whose brains work along similar wave lengths will already be shouting at your screens, “Has he never heard of paper, pen and stamps??????”… The legitimate excuse is that when your friend suffers from dyslexia, and you are let’s face it rather lazy, the combination makes penmanship an inky form of torture.)
At the same time, we are trying to help this young man gain some independence, and part of that involves learning about cost. I’ll go into cost, and costs some other time when I’m waxing philosophical!! Right now, I’m focussed on Eldest’s ability to manage a budget, in this case of minutes and texts.
My previous deal with this lad was that he would get a phone when he had earned his “Independence”… a school scheme that will see him earn the right to leave school grounds for a few hours without adult supervision (so, so scary!!), at which point a phone is necessary. He made it clear that he had a particular type of phone in mind, far more expensive and fancy than anything I had considered. My answer was that any sum more than the one I had earmarked would be for him to pay.
But here we are… the deal has changed.
In order for him to join that nether world of the mobile phone community, I do feel that a phone may not be utterly superfluous to his requirements. So I have bought him one. On my terms.
It is a lovely, basic, call and text phone. No touch screens, no apps, no anything fancy (he has all he needs in terms of digital entertainment anyway!). He will be given a set amount of money and the first lesson will be how to check his balance.
He will need to show me his call and message log if he feels the need to top up before I think reasonable. Not because I want to check up on him, but because I really want him to be aware that in this game, time equals money, and texts equal money. And since that money is not his, he must be accountable for his use of it.
I will see him at the end of next week, and as of that moment, Eldest will have reached a milestone, as will I. He will have in his possession, a mobile phone…