There they were, a restaurant table-full of 11-year-olds in their glittered shirts and multi-colored sneakers and dangling neon earrings, holding their colorful phones at arms length and making googly faces as the built-in cell cameras took goofy shots, one after the next. Honest to goodness, to me, it was like a tween cell phone convention. But to my daughter, Mari, it was a deliciously brutal form of tween torture.
Mari, you see, is not allowed to have a cell phone. Oh, she’s begged, pleaded, bribed, and prayed to the Good Lord Above for one, but yeah—no matter how much she claims it’s “just a gadget” and promises not to glue it to her hand and dial up friends willy-nilly, her father and I refuse to budge on this simple rule: No kids of ours shall have cell phones until age 14.
There is a method to our madness. First off, we see absolutely no good reason to add upwards of $200 in annual fees to our already out-of-control cell phone bills—particularly for a kid who makes, like, $6 a week for getting straight A’s. Second, we have a house phone. It works just fine—especially for 11-year-olds who just have to talk to their 11-year-old friends.
Most importantly, we absolutely refuse to put into our daughter’s hands a play gadget that doubles as a ticking time bomb in the hands of a child. Sure, she can take pictures with it and call her little girlfriend to talk about the start of school and download a couple of games to play on it when she’s bored, but she could also unwittingly share her number with people who really shouldn’t be engaging an 11-year-old, leaving her vulnerable to receiving explicit photos and having inappropriate, unlimited conversations with folks her parents don’t know, when her parents don’t know it.
Yeah, yeah—mean mommy and daddy. So oppressive and overprotective. But also realistic. The truth of the matter is that one of the biggest responsibilities of parenting kids at this age is to slowly allow more freedoms, all-the-while controlling their contact with an outside world that seeks to do them harm. They’re old enough to go to playdates and sleepovers sans their parents, but only at homes with friends (and siblings and parents) that have been properly vetted; they’re mature enough to go to the mall with their friends and a little cash in their purses, but only with a parent close by; they’re saavy enough to surf the internet, but only when an adult is in the room.
What tweens are not ready for—at least not in our book—is a world in which they can talk to anybody, give their number to anyone, take pictures of anything and any person anywhere, and do all of that without our knowledge or permission, at any time. There simply isn’t enough common sense there to save them from themselves; their ability to detect situations that will be bad for them—that could take a horrible turn or be harmful—is pretty doggone slim, and get even slimmer when you add in the technology that comes from a cell phone or a computer.
In other words, tweens need more common sense and maturity before they’re ready for grown up gadgets—and that comes only with age. With time.
Of course, Mari’s girlfriends all seem to have parents who think differently. Still, Mari knows that even if she argues this until she’s blue in the face, we’re holding firm on our rule; just because some kids have cell phones and laptops doesn’t mean ours should—that it’s right for our child.
And this is why we make the big bucks: She’s the kid and we’re the parents and it is what it is for a reason. One of these days, she’ll understand.