Mom Regrets Giving Her Kids Cell Phones — for Surprising Reason

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This is a great article in the Washington Post by Allison Slater Tate that clearly lays out the real threat of giving our kids a way for us to get in touch with them all the time.

It drives parents crazy with worry.

Now any time we CAN’T reach them, we worst-first: Why isn’t he answering? Where has she gone (or been taken)???

That is exactly what Pope Francis was warning the world about when he said that caring for kids does not mean watching or being with them constantly. Once we are omnipresent, not only does the child never get independence, but we ourselves come to believe we can and must control all that a child encounters. Which is impossible. And crazy-making.

In her essay, Tate writes about a time her 13-year-old didn’t get off the school bus and wasn’t answering his phone. Turns out he’d fallen asleep on the ride home and hadn’t been noticed by the bus driver. What’s more, his phone was dead. But in 30 minutes of not being able to reach him, Tate had been to psychological hell:

“You didn’t answer your phone!” I exclaimed indignantly when my errant child was finally in my car and I had hugged him hard. “It’s dead,” he answered nonchalantly. “Chill out, Mom. I just fell asleep. It’s no big deal.”

“Your new bedtime is 7 p.m. until you’re 40,” I declared through clenched teeth. “Maybe you don’t need a phone. What good is it if it doesn’t work in times like these?”

That’s why he has a cell phone, after all…. I wanted to be able to get in touch with them in case something went wrong, or in case they needed to tell me about a change in their transportation. I thought of the cell phones as safety nets: They made me feel better about sending them to middle school, especially across town.

Beware the unintended consequence! First, for the kids:

By giving them cell phones, I had inadvertently placed an expectation and a burden on my children that I did not experience until my 30s: that they could, and should, be reachable every moment of the day.

Because I had a childhood only a few miles away from where my own children are growing up comprised of long bike rides and walks, lost afternoons playing alone in my own backyard, and meandering home from the bus stop with friends without my mother pinging me, I should have realized that giving my children phones, I was ending that kind of independence for them.

And as for parents:

I realize now that I wanted them to be reachable at all times not simply for their safety, but for mine; I wanted reassurance in the form of a sort of digital umbilical cord. Maybe that was selfish and short-sighted.

The truth is, my children don’t need to be reachable every moment – even to me – to be safe.

Please see my very recent post on the “Hum” device that allows parents to monitor where, when and how their kids are driving. That is just the next step in the idea of constant supervision of our kids.

Tate may feel selfish and short-sighted, but she shouldn’t be hard on herself. Our entire society is dedicated to telling us that our kids are never safe unsupervised. Not when driving, not when not walking, not when playing outside or sitting in a parked car. Never, ever, ever.

Which is true. But that doesn’t mean they are particularly unsafe, either. They’re safe, but not perfectly so, as children (and animals and everything else on earth) have ever been. We are trying to create a new world with us as Gods, where we can control everything from afar.

The Pope got it right. That is not our job. Can’t be. Shouldn’t be. Isn’t. – L .

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Hi mommy! I just took a breath. Should I take anudder one?

Hi Mommy! I just took a breath. Should I take anudder one?

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44 Responses to Mom Regrets Giving Her Kids Cell Phones — for Surprising Reason

  1. Anna May 2, 2016 at 11:33 am #

    This is not only true of young kids, but even college students these days. A few years ago, when I was teaching some college classes, my students all said they were in contact with their parents not just daily but more than once a day, and that their parents would be angry if they didn’t call or text at least every day. Although many were disturbingly dependent on this parental contact, at the same time they resented it and felt that something was wrong, and I understand why – how can they establish any adult identity or emotional self-reliance tied that tight to mommy and daddy? (My college had payphones shared by the entire dorm, which was sometimes a nuisance but on the whole way better than a phone in everyone’s pocket.)

  2. James Pollock May 2, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    The problem is not in the cellphone.

    Yes, a cellphone can be used as an electronic leash, but it doesn’t have to be. I own one, but I don’t routinely carry it. It’s used almost exclusively for outgoing calls. I didn’t get one for my daughter, but my ex-wife did, which had the gigantic advantage of leaving me out of the loop when she wants to talk to our daughter.

    The difference is one of assumption.
    My daughter is bright, self-confident, and capable. If she’s calling me, it’s because she actually needs my help with something. If she’s not calling me, she doesn’t need me. I consider “she doesn’t need me” to be a desirable state.

  3. pentamom May 2, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    The only time my kid not answering his phone/texts made me worry was a time when I would have been just as worried at having no other way to get in touch with him.

    He’d gone off to do something with a friend, whose last name I stupidly had not bothered to learn. We were expecting him to call back for a ride home within a couple of hours, because we had evening plans (including him.)

    But the afternoon ticks by, and no word. Multiple texts and voice mails, no answer. Finally we start hacking around his e-mail to try to figure out the kid’s name, so we can see if his parents are in the book, and call and find out what’s up.

    Turns out they were in the basement without cell reception the whole time. Yeah, the expectation that he’d see a message and answer it was driving us crazy, but we’d have been going just as crazy not having any other way to get in touch with him past the time we’d expected him to call, knowing that he knew that he couldn’t stay there all day.

    Well, he finally called back just around the time we figured out his parents’ phone number, and explained. By then, it was too late do what we’d planned to do that evening. (And yes, it was something he very much wanted to do and had asked to do. So being clueless about staying in touch was its own punishment.)

    Otherwise, it’s how you use it. All my kids have them — I only expect to hear from them if I need to know where they are (e,g., need to know when and where to pick them up.) I text my kids at college and sometimes don’t hear back for days because I don’t text just to create a Pavolovian text response — sometimes they need to think about what I’ve asked them or some such thing.

  4. pentamom May 2, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    So I think as with a lot of these things, it’s about how you use it, and your personality. If you know you’ll be prone to worry if you have a means to hear from your kids and don’t hear as often as you expect, it’s probably best avoided. Otherwise, it’s a tool to be used wisely if you’re able.

  5. Tern May 2, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

    I suppose this depends on how you use and think of cell phones. My kids have had them since age 11, when they started busing around the city themselves. But I definitely do not expect to be able to reach them at any time, and in fact am frequently telling them to turn off their ringers and notifications so they will not be rude to those around them. There are lots of reasons a kid–or adult–might not answer a phone, even if they carry one.

  6. BL May 2, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    @Anna
    “(My college had payphones shared by the entire dorm, which was sometimes a nuisance but on the whole way better than a phone in everyone’s pocket.)”

    Same here. I think I called my parents at least once a month 🙂

  7. Bose May 2, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    When I was 10, my youngest brother was born, and I was fascinated… learning to change diapers (unsupervised!) and sharing a bedroom with him was sweet.

    When I was 11, I signed up for my first job, delivering shoppers (i.e., free all-advertising pseudo-newspapers) one afternoon a week.

    When I was 12, I expanded my empire to delivering a daily newspaper, every morning, at 5am. My parents’ only requirement? This is on you… we’re not waking you up or prompting you on how to make this work. They went with me to open my first checking account (necessary to run my own business, collecting from my customers to pay the newspaper). But, it didn’t really figure into the equation for them that we lived in a northern climate where 5am temps could be 20-30 degrees below zero F. If that was really what I wanted to do, they didn’t want to get in the way. (It still baffles me that I did it every day for 3 years straight.)

    It was the 1970s, they didn’t have the option to track my every move, but why would they have wanted it?

  8. andy May 2, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    Tate is neither selfish nor short – sighted, but has low coping skills when it comes to uncertainty. It has more to do with that then with phones.

    When there were no phones, more fearful parents got afraid when kid did not shown up at expected time. Tate would be one of those back then.

  9. Donna May 2, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    I got my daughter a cellphone because she frequently stays home alone and we don’t have a landline. That said, I do wish my kid would use her cellphone more often, not so that I can keep track of her, but so I can communicate with her about things I need. For example, this weekend I went to the beach for a seminar and the child tagged along. She hung out at the hotel in the morning while I was at the seminar and then we played the rest of the day. On Saturday, one of our friends unexpectedly popped by the seminar (she was visiting her mother in the area) and wanted to do lunch. I tried to call the child to tell her to hop on her bike and come over to the restaurant, but she did not have her phone turned on. Instead, everyone had to wait while I rode my bike over to the hotel to actually get her for lunch. Yes, this is what my parents would have had to do, but I am actually happy that I live in 2016 with the convenience of modern technology and sometimes wish the child would just get on board already.

  10. Snow May 2, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    My kid got a cell phone when he was 10. Why? Because he’s deaf and can’t use regular phones. His cell phone gives him independence. He can’t call me and tell me if he’s going to be late on a regular phone, but he can easily text on a cell phone.

  11. CDG May 2, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    My fear from this is how long until parents start getting busted for choosing to not do this. The old “It is VERY easy to keep tabs on your child … why didn’t you know where they were?” questions from CPS.

  12. SKL May 2, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    I used to think cell phones for kids were stupid. Mainly because I survived without one. 😛

    But now I’m chomping at the bit to buy my kids phones. I promised them a low-tech version for their 10th birthdays.

    Why?

    – We don’t have a landline, so leaving them home alone (which I do sometimes) means leaving them unable to contact anyone unless they go bang on the neighbor’s door. While the need is very unlikely, I don’t want to find out how the cops would react to prepubescent kids being left home without a phone.

    – For my convenience. I might want to ask my kids to do something for me, or change plans without them having to be physically in my presence.

    – To get busybodies off my back. Sending kids out “with a phone” seems to bother people less.

    – Because I trust my kids to be ready to learn wise phone use.

    I myself hate being accessible all the time. I resisted getting a cell phone for years, and then finally my boss required it. I still don’t let it rule my life. So why would I do that to my kids?

    Remember when we were kids, before cell phones, and using a [land line] phone was part of the first grade curriculum? We learned phone etiquette too. Until recently, my kids didn’t even know how to dial a phone, which struck me as backward, even though they wouldn’t have any need to dial a phone unless I started dying in their presence. Times are different. No point resisting just for the sake of stubbornness. 😛

  13. Emily May 2, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

    I agree with others here–the cell phone isn’t the problem in itself; it’s just an object, or a tool, that can be used effectively, or not. The problem is the expectation of being reachable 24/7, which is impossible, for both kids and adults. Kids’ schools, and adults’ workplaces, sometimes have rules about when cell phones can and can’t be used. Some adults’ jobs necessarily preclude cell phone use when they’re actively working, like doctors, teachers, or anything that involves driving for long periods of time. Both kids and adults sometimes go places where there’s no cell phone reception, like basements, or wilderness areas sometimes. There are also places and activities where cell phone use is either banned, or not feasible, like concerts, plays, church services, movies, fitness classes (or really, any kind of classes), and swimming pools. Also, phones break, batteries wear out, and people fall asleep (like the boy in this story) or forget to charge or turn on their phones. Besides that, sometimes people can’t respond right away, or don’t want to, like if they need time to think.

    But, destructive expectations can come with any item, not just a phone. You could give someone a car, and expect them to drive you around everywhere and do all your errands, you could give someone a baseball bat, and expect them to use it to rob a bank for you, you could give someone a computer, but with the caveat that you monitor all their activities on it, and so on, and so forth. That doesn’t mean that cars, baseball bats, and computers are necessarily bad; just that giving them with unrealistic strings attached is bad. That can be done with almost anything; even things that aren’t material. For example, a little while ago, I auditioned for a community theatre play, and was given the female lead role……..which devolved into me doing a lot of things for the director/producer that he should have done himself, and created a lot of problems for the team, because requests for things like an updated contact list (because some people dropped out and others joined mid-stream) went unanswered, because he had health problems and shouldn’t have been directing a play to begin with. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, giving something with unreasonable conditions attached, isn’t a problem with the thing that’s being given; it’s a problem with the conditions.

  14. lollipoplover May 2, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

    A comment from the WashPo article:

    “What troubles me about this article has nothing to do with cell phones. Why was this mother freaking out that her 13yr old son didn’t get off the bus? Assuming he is not special needs, it will all work out. A 13yo doesn’t really get lost. Thirty minutes of terror. Adrenaline coursing through her veins. WHAT? That kind of emotion should be reserved for a 3 year old child missing and not a 13 year old. Why doesn’t this 13 year old have enough independence and trust from his mother for her to calmly wonder where the heck he went and why doesn’t she have the confidence that he’ll turn up? I found this baffling. What exactly did she think happened to this child from the school doors to the bus? Very strange article, IMHO.”

    I felt the same way reading it. My kids are not perfect users of technology and don’t answer the phone 100% of the time, but I don’t get a panic attack when schedules are not followed perfectly. Buses breakdown. Traffic gets snarled. Phones die. But falling asleep on a loud school bus? I’m just glad she didn’t blame the bus driver.

  15. Emily May 2, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    >>What troubles me about this article has nothing to do with cell phones. Why was this mother freaking out that her 13yr old son didn’t get off the bus? Assuming he is not special needs, it will all work out. A 13yo doesn’t really get lost. Thirty minutes of terror. Adrenaline coursing through her veins. WHAT? That kind of emotion should be reserved for a 3 year old child missing and not a 13 year old. Why doesn’t this 13 year old have enough independence and trust from his mother for her to calmly wonder where the heck he went and why doesn’t she have the confidence that he’ll turn up? I found this baffling. What exactly did she think happened to this child from the school doors to the bus? Very strange article, IMHO.”<<

    I think I know why. With the minimum ages for basic childhood rites of passage rising ever higher in the name of "safety," it's not just the kids who lose out; their adults do too. When a child learns a new skill towards independence, their parent or guardian has to learn to trust that child to use that skill. For example, a child could sing the Elmer the Elephant song a thousand times, and understand perfectly why Elmer the Elephant says to "look both ways before you cross the street," and theoretically have the skills to be able to do it. However, that child won't get to use that skill, if he or she is never allowed to cross a street without an adult. Such is life for a helicoptered child–even if the child doesn't resent this treatment, and actually learns and absorbs all the lessons in safety taught by adults, they won't mean anything until the adults learn to trust them to actually use them. So, if Mr. Thirteen here has always been hand-held through life, whether physically or electronically, then he's always been at about a "three-year-old" level of trust and independence, and therefore, his mother wouldn't have adjusted to the reality that he's thirteen, and therefore probably mature enough to be okay on his own for 30 minutes. Without the cell phone, he probably would have woken up eventually, and then alerted the bus driver that he'd fallen asleep, and he lived at 123 Blahblah Street, and could the driver please take him there? Also, I noticed that the mother's immediate reaction was to threaten to take away the phone as punishment…..which would, ironically, make her son even LESS reachable, which seems counterintuitive. She could ground him, I suppose, but she's not going to stop him from going to school, and when the punishment ends, he gets his phone back, and everything goes back to the (unhealthy) way that it was, without anyone really learning anything. What's the point of that?

  16. gpo613 May 2, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

    Both my kids 9th and 5th grade have cellphones. I like them one so I don’t have to bother other parents if they happen to be with my child. Also I can wait until the last minute to pick up my oldest on bus rides back from HS sports.

    My youngest is now a latch key kid. Because of my oldests sports she is home for about an hour after school sometimes. She texts my wife that she is home. If no cellphone she would call using the landline. So nothing much has changed.

    I will not be texting my oldest daily once she goes to college. She is on her own. I will tell her to text me if she needs something otherwise it can wait until a weekly or bi-weekly call.

  17. Beanie May 2, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    So I have a plan for slowly introducing my kids to cell phones. When they start wanting to text with their friends, we will ditch the landline and put a cell phone in its place. They can text or call on it, but it will still be a family phone, with no expectation of privacy, and they will not be carrying it around the neighborhood. When they leave the house, they will need to give me an idea of where they’re going, who they’ll be with, and when they’ll be back, so I can track them down if necessary. If their plans change, they can borrow a phone–just like in the olden days–and give me a call. Eventually they’ll have more of a practical use for cell phones and when that happens we’ll look into it. . . but this plan is what I’ve got so far. Right now, in elementary school, they’re just starting to call friends and make plans instead of us parents doing it for them. I like that they’re learning the etiquette for making voice calls and leaving messages. My thought is, one thing at a time, no need to throw a bunch of technology at them all at once.

    I think this will help me too, because I am the kind of person who would get nervous if my kid didn’t answer the phone. Even now, when I have a question for or want to show a picture to my kids (like of the really cool bird I just saw outside), I find myself reaching for my phone to text my kids. Who are at school, and don’t have phones. I’ve gotten used to instantly being able to get in touch with others. I don’t want to put that burden on them. They’ll get it soon enough from other people and will have to make their own decisions about how available they want to be. I don’t want to be the one who trains that into them!

  18. diane May 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    It’s funny how technology can re-set our expectations. And if something unexpected happens, how weird it feels to make a Plan B. The other day, after school, our power went out. I had no idea why or how long it would be. After explaining (about three times, my kids can be dense sometimes) what happened and that no, I couldn’t fix the computer so they could continue playing, we went searching for flashlights and such and placed them at handy spots so when we returned from a school function that evening, we’d be able to get ready for bed easily if the power was still out.
    Humbling, to realize how reliant we are on things we’ve become accustomed to. We probably ought to have unplanned, minor crises just to practice the work-arounds that are available!

  19. m May 2, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    Parents who get their kid’s cell phones to “keep them safe”, or be able to reach them at all times, are deluded.

    You call a kid on their cell phone and they say “Hi Mom! I’m at the library!” It doesn’t mean they are safe, or at the library. They could be naked in their date’s back seat with a bottle of whiskey.

    @Anna, I’ve known college kids who call their parents 10-12 times a DAY, and this was encouraged by the parents. I would be annoyed if my spouse called me that many times a day. I’d consider that kind of neediness unhealthy. I don’t know what those parents were thinking. I love my kids, but I don’t need to know their every move.

  20. John May 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

    Years ago, I took my grand nephew Alex and his friend Jason, who were 13 at the time, to the Cedar Point roller coaster park in Sandusky, Ohio. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive from their home in Michigan. The place closes at 10 pm so we’re already driving home late. Well, there was all kinds of road construction in Michigan so I got completely lost driving home! It got to be 3 am and we weren’t even close to getting home. My grand nephew Alex didn’t have a clue so finally my niece called me to ask why we weren’t home and then she had to wake up her husband to provide me alternate directions. Jason was sound to sleep in the back seat and I was worried sick about his parents being freaked out as to why he wasn’t home. His cell phone was sitting on the seat next to him and I figured if they were really worried about him, they’d try calling but his phone didn’t ring.

    So finally when we got home (bout 4:30 am), Jason woke up as we pulled up in front of Alex’s house. So after dropping Alex off, I would take Jason home so I told him to call his parents to tell them what happened and that I’d be dropping him off soon. Jason then told me, “I can’t cause my cell phone is dead”. So I thought oh sh..! His parents have probably been trying to call him but obviously couldn’t reach him so when I arrive to his house, I’ll probably have the police, the FBI, Interpole, the KGB etc., etc. waiting for me! But Jason assured me not to worry and that his parents were probably asleep.

    Sure enough, I dropped him off to a dark house and he got in OK with his spare key. Obviously Jason had free-range parents who do not make it a habit of worrying sick about their kid!

  21. elizabeth May 2, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

    I had a basic cell phone when i was thirteen, but it broke after a bit. I didnt get another phone of my own until i was nineteen. Ive always had to do things the old-fashioned way- memorize important numbers or write them down, and find a phone if i needed to call someone.

  22. Snow May 2, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    John, I’m about as free range as they come, but if I was expecting anyone, not just my kid, but my spouse, friend, parents….anyone, to be somewhere at 1:30am and they didn’t show up until 4:30, I’d be pretty damn freaked out and I certainly would not be sleeping.

  23. Michelle May 2, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    Maybe she just needs to shift her perspective to see cell phones as a convenience, rather than a safety measure. I love my phone. I like texting because I don’t have to respond right away, but the truth is that I usually do just because it’s convenient for me. When it’s not, I don’t.

    I do get irritated when my kids don’t answer the phone, because I’m paying for a convenience (being able to reach them and ask if we need peanut butter, or find out what time they will be home, or tell them I’m going out, etc.) and not getting it. But I don’t get *scared*. I assume they have the ringer turned off, or it’s in the other room, or whatever. Not that they are kidnapped or laying dead in a ditch.

  24. LauraL May 2, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

    This happened to me, not exactly, but close. We had canceled our land line because the only calls we got were robo-calls and spam. We all have cell phones. My husband and I went out for the weekly shopping and left the two remaining teenagers home. We tried to reach them to ask a question and couldn’t get a response via text from either, nor did either pick up the call when we called. It went on a while. Finally I texted one of my daughter’s friends to see if they were playing together on an online game and she said no, my daughter was idle.

    I was just about to have this friend’s mom drive to my house when my daughter finally responded. One had left her phone in her room, the other had it over on the bed and is always on silent/buzz, and so he didn’t hear/feel it, and they flat out didn’t know we were trying to reach them. So we had a discussion about the fact we didn’t have a landline anymore and that if both parents are out of the house to be sure their phones were available for us to reach them! I tell you, visions of the house getting a gas leak and they were both dead on the floor went through my head because WHY ELSE WOULDN’T EITHER OF THEM ANSWER OMG????!?!?!? sigh.

    But of course, everything was all right. My son had a great time laughing. “I bet you thought the house burned down! Or a car drove through the house! Or we were being held at gunpoint while they robbed the house of the really old tv and stereo and all the computers!” Thanks, kid. 😛

  25. Stephanie F May 2, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

    My oldest (14) has a cell phone, and it’s useful enough, but we try to be sensible about it. She texts way too much with friends, but since most never have time to come over due to activities or homework, it’s the easiest way for her to keep in contact with her friends, which I think is sad.

    We live about a half hour from where the San Bernardino attack happened, and her school district went on lockdown for it. She really appreciated that her teachers let everyone text during that. I didn’t even know anything was happening until she texted me, as I was out running errands. I reassured her that odds are nothing would happen anywhere near her (seriously, it wasn’t THAT close and I think the school overreacted, as closer districts did not all lock down). I could see the school being more alert, but the lockdown mostly served to terrify the kids.

    Now the problem with letting the kids text is how fast rumors spread due to it. My daughter was hearing all kinds of stories from classmates as different people told them different things before anyone really knew what was going on. I have two other kids at the same school, but younger, and they were much less worried, even though more of their classmates had been picked up by worried parents.

    If it had been an actual emergency, the cell phone would have been great, I can’t deny that. If things had been happening closer to the school, once again, it might have been helpful, so that I would have been alerted quickly. But as things were, it allowed too many rumors to spread, and that made things worse for the kids.

    On the plus side for the cell phone, I don’t have to worry about when an after school activity ends. She sends me a text that it’s time to get her and I drive over. She could walk home, but the other parents always insist on picking her up and driving her home. Only two miles – she knows she can do it, but accepting a ride is easier. We have a rule that if I’m not picking her up and another parent offers, she has to know the parent. I don’t always know the parents all that well, but when it’s a straight ride home with the parent of a school friend I don’t think there’s much to worry about. She doesn’t even usually call or text to tell me so.

  26. SKL May 2, 2016 at 8:25 pm #

    This reminds me of the day we were visiting Valencia, Spain. I broke off from my group so I could go take some photos while they were doing something else. My sense of direction failed me and I didn’t know how to get back to where we were supposed to meet. Worse, both my and my friend’s cell phone batteries were dead or nearly so. I didn’t have an actual address for where I was trying to go, just “the prince’s palace” of which there may have been more than one. 😛 Well, I just used my horse sense to keep walking toward what might have been the prince’s palace, made many turns, finally recognized a landmark and met up with my friends. I’m sure there are other examples in my various travels when we had to use old-fashioned horse sense. It’s probably lucky that I come from a time when kids were allowed to develop said sense.

  27. MichelleB May 2, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    Are people more panic-prone than they used to be? If my kids don’t answer the phone, I assume there’s a decent reason and try back later.

  28. Kimberly May 2, 2016 at 10:25 pm #

    My daughter ended up with her cell phone in the 6th grade. She had wanted to ride the bus home that year, so I got her a bus pass. It worked out well because the bus dropped her off at her old elementary school (where her younger brother was going) which allowed them to walk home together.

    Then, one day, my son came home nearly 30 minutes late without his sister. He had waited at the school but the bus had never shown up. I figured he had simply not been paying attention (he was in 3rd grade after all). I was concerned, but not overly worried. Then, almost an hour later she finally walked in the door.

    It turned out that the district had been short some buses due to a couple of field trips so my daughter’s bus had to do an extra long route to make sure that all the kids were able to get bused home. After I fired off a terse email to the principal of the middle school that explained how a phone call (or some sort of notice) would have been appreciated, we went out and got the cheapest phone available just in case a situation like this came up again.

    This was three years ago and now both of my kids have phones. Surprisingly, it hasn’t become a leash or a “safety net”. In the last few years there have been so many times where my kids have gone off or been super late without a phone call and so far I’ve been able to shrug them off — except when we have plans and they don’t show up or answer their phones (then they get to see angry mom).

  29. andy May 3, 2016 at 12:51 am #

    @MichelleB when I was unusualy late, my parents were afraid about me and similar dynamic was going on in friends families. I had to call when I changed plans and would come later in the evening.

  30. Katie G May 3, 2016 at 6:50 am #

    To whomever it was who said that the parents are shafted when the kids’ freedom is less, yes! I’ve had that the last week! My 9yo daughter is normally allowed to go a handful of places on her own, but because she wasn’t home on time (and as a result made another family have to wait for something we were doing together) from the library, I forbade her to go places alone for a week. That meant, however, I couldn’t send her to do an errand for me, which would have saved me a lot of trouble!

  31. Emily May 3, 2016 at 8:06 am #

    >>To whomever it was who said that the parents are shafted when the kids’ freedom is less, yes! I’ve had that the last week! My 9yo daughter is normally allowed to go a handful of places on her own, but because she wasn’t home on time (and as a result made another family have to wait for something we were doing together) from the library, I forbade her to go places alone for a week. That meant, however, I couldn’t send her to do an errand for me, which would have saved me a lot of trouble!<<

    @KatieG–That wasn't exactly what I meant. I meant that, as kids learn to do things independently, their adults have to learn to actually trust them to do those things. You already trust your daughter to go places on her own, even if she's "grounded" this week for coming home late from the library. I think you did the right thing in making the punishment finite, though, because my parents would often punish me and my brother by taking away belongings or privileges "until further notice." In theory, we'd have to "earn it back," but in practice, it often went by their moods, or sometimes, they'd just forget. I remember rescuing our Connect Four game from a high shelf after they'd confiscated it months earlier, and I also remember being afraid to ask "can I go to the park?" (that our house backed into) even at absurdly old ages, like twelve or so, because it could result in anything between "yes" and a tirade about how it wasn't safe, or we couldn't be trusted, or the world couldn't be trusted, because they'd just read an article in the newspaper about a child molester on the prowl or whatever. At the time, my brother and I thought we were bad kids, but in retrospect, my parents just hadn't really learned the skill of giving us independence. By contrast, you're doing it right, because Miss Nine knows that she isn't a bad person; she just made a mistake, and she'll have an incentive to do better once she's back out in the world again next week.

  32. CrazyCatLady May 3, 2016 at 9:36 am #

    My daughter is in 10th grade and has a pay as you go flip phone. I have the same thing. It is a beast to text on – scrolling through the numbers and characters. Phones in her classes are supposed to be off, or in a dock by the teacher. Which is fine by me.

    Recently I had to pick her up at school. She forgot the time and was still in her classroom. The lady at the front desk told me to text her so she didn’t need to interrupt the teacher by calling her on the intercom. Which would have done no good at all…she did have her phone in her bag, but as she was not supposed to be using it in class anyhow, she wouldn’t have answered it had she heard it vibrate.

  33. Neil M May 3, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    I am sooo glad you are saying this, Lenore. I’m no parent, but it seems to me that it is not a parent’s job to be everything, all the time, to their kid. This childless person says a parent’s job is to do the reasonable best he/she can and then let go. No childhood will be perfect and I hate to see parents driving themselves crazy trying to make it so.

  34. A Reader May 3, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    As a high school teacher, I have to deal with kids texting in class. When caught, the phone is confiscated and brought to the office till the end of the day. Of course, most of the time the student will protest “but it’s my mom!” to which I respond, assuming she doesn’t suspect you of playing hooky (which I hope not, because you obviously aren’t), she should know that if you fail to respond, you’re only dying math class and not dying in a ditch by the side of the road.

  35. John May 3, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

    Quote:

    “John, I’m about as free range as they come, but if I was expecting anyone, not just my kid, but my spouse, friend, parents….anyone, to be somewhere at 1:30am and they didn’t show up until 4:30, I’d be pretty damn freaked out and I certainly would not be sleeping.”

    @Snow:

    But how would you know they didn’t show up until 4:30 if you were still sleeping? That’s my whole point. Jason’s parents knew he would be getting home fairly late so they didn’t wait up for him and probably were still sound to sleep at 4:30 am when he finally arrived home. Many parents would not even fall asleep or they’d periodically wake up until their child arrived home but Jason’s parents chose not to worry about him and that he’d be just fine. Now had Jason’s parents woken up at 4 am and Jason still hadn’t arrived home, perhaps then they’d be concerned but they were still sound to sleep which means they weren’t gonna worry about him.

  36. Snow May 3, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    John,

    I most likely would have been up at 1:30, anyway, so if the person I was waiting for hadn’t arrived, I’d know. 🙂

    It occurred to me that perhaps the parents knew you were going to be late. I bet your niece called the parents. That makes total sense. 🙂

  37. hineata May 4, 2016 at 5:31 am #

    I get really annoyed at times when I can’t get hold of my kids by cell, mostly because it’s inconvenient for me….I would like them to pick up something, pick me up etc :-). However I thought I was immune to actually worrying about them when they’re out of range.

    But then Midge went away this week with about half her high school year (40-odd kids) to the centre of the island. No cells allowed, and out of range anyway. They’re out there tramping and caving and rafting etc, some of it potentially dangerous but a heck of a lot of fun. And I find I’m really missing her….would love to ring for a chat (I wouldn’t of course, even if I could, but I would sure like to!).

    Pathetic Mummy – heaven knows what I’ll be like when they leave home, LOL!

  38. pentamom May 4, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    hineata, as Lenore is wont to say, worrying about or missing your kids is natural. It’s when you let those things dictate what you let them do, or use them to justify all kinds of surveillance, that it’s a problem.

  39. Dee May 4, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

    My son is 14 and just got his own real cell phone (burner, no data). He brings it almost nowhere. He doesn’t like to bring to school b/c he has to leave it at the office. He didn’t want to bring it with him to a festival b/c he didn’t want it to get wet, although I did make him so I could stay in touch while he was in throngs of people. The most useful was when he went to a party and could text us to pick him up. It’s changed nothing for us.

  40. Catherine Caldwell-Harris May 4, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    I am happy I grew up without cellphones. The other day I forgot my phone after me and the kids were on bikes / scooters on our way to catch a bus to an event. We would miss the bus and event if we went back home. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I lived into my 30s before getting a cell phone. We all survived, even thrived back then. Because I didn’t have my phone and thus the bus schedule, we did wait 50 minutes for the return bus. But so what?

    I also remember the freedom of: once I was outside of the house, my parents could not reach me! ha ha

  41. JulieH May 4, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    My girls are 11 and 13. Neither of them wants a phone. They have good reasons:

    1. Most of the time in life, they are somewhere that there are other people around (school, practice, library, etc). Most of those people have phones. If it is *that* urgent, they can ask someone if they can use their phone or if they would be so kind as to send a text for them. This applies to changes in plans (practice cancelled, etc.) too.

    2. At times when they are out and about on their own, they are usually within a 2 mile radius of home. It is a residential area. If they *really* need assistance, it is easy enough to knock on a door or wave down a car and ask the person to call us or contact us some other way.

    3. Their friends that have phones are texting each other constantly and get upset if they don’t get responses almost immediately. They don’t want to be “on demand” with their friends like that. If their friend really wants to talk to them, they give them our home phone number or my cell number (with my permission) if that is a solution that makes more sense.

    The 13 yo has no problem talking to people she doesn’t know, so it works great for her. The 11 yo is a little more reticent, but that actually helps her work through more problems on her own rather than calling me for help.

    I have made an agreement with my kids. If either of us decides that a phone is needed, we will speak up with the reasons and discuss.

  42. Emily May 4, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    @JulieH–your daughters sound very sensible. I didn’t want a cell phone until about halfway through my first year of university, and I only wanted it then because I was in a quintet with some people (one in particular) who were unreliable. So, a lot of the time, I’d arrive at the music building before our scheduled rehearsal time, to get set up and warmed up, so we could start playing at the appointed time. When I was finished warming up, I’d come back out from the practice room I’d set up in, to the foyer, and wait for my ensemble-mates to trickle in. Usually, they’d all be there, except That Girl who constantly flaked, so I’d have to call her; from the office phone if it was open, or from the pay phone if it wasn’t. The only problem was, of course, nobody could call the pay phone back, so a lot of rehearsal time got wasted either waiting around, or attempting to rehearse without That Girl……who was eventually shamed into regular attendance by our prof (who checked in with us as needed, and was available when we needed help, but mostly left things up to us). After that, my parents gave me a cell phone for my birthday, the following June, so I had one for second year. This situation played out many more times over the years, but it was slightly easier to deal with once I had a cell phone. People seem to want to be able to make plans in real-time now, and not having a cell phone means not being able to keep up with that.

  43. JP Merzetti May 5, 2016 at 3:17 am #

    Maybe the elephant in the room here truly is personal freedom.
    Down time – alone time – me and nobody else time.
    I had a lot of that as a kid, and it never did me a lick of harm.

    Sure, a cellular device can be a handy tool. And it all depends on how it’s used.
    And perhaps there’s the rub.

    My childhood was full of a million magic moments. (I actually remember about 989,257 of them)
    And I sure wouldn’t have wanted one of them to be interrupted by a phone call.
    That sense of time in the present, here and now….focused – with all senses engaged. Instead of moving through life like a Hollywood actor in some C – movie, scripted and chorused to a Director’s bark and command.

    And my “safety” had not a damned thing to do with it. That was understood (by all who mattered.)

    So does that wicked little slave really rule the master?

    I actually made it to the ripe old age of 16….and a first girlfriend – before I had much of anything to do with a phone. (After which, of course – all bets were off !)
    But all that had only to do with hormones…..not a lick of good old common sense.

    Technology is perhaps used wisely, by wise people…..and abused by many others.

    ahem. My current cellular device commonly runs out of battery power (after about three or four days) without ever being used.
    But it sure comes in handy, those times when I’m trying to find someone in a crowd.

    Sometimes it just gets me. A thinking person who enjoys the company of their own thoughts often enough doesn’t need to share them on a moment-to-moment basis.

    You know……on my university campus, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been accosted by lost lambs looking for something or someone….and they’re standing there with a smart/dumb device in their hand……and no-one to call. They uh…..didn’t get the number. Welcome to the madhouse.

  44. MT May 7, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    My daughter has a cell phone, but I don’t worry when she doesn’t respond, because I tend not to pay attention to my phone either. However, it is very convenient for her to be able to call me when I need to pick her up from some event or another, so neither of us is sitting around waiting if it ends early or late. It’s also convenient for her to call and tell me if she is going home with a friend after school. We used to just use the house phone to make that call – but lot of houses don’t have landlines anymore.