Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy 11th birthday! Here's a cell phone?

For a long time, my husband Brian and I were of the why-does-a-kid-need-a-cell-phone? camp. I mean, we didn’t have cell phones growing up and we survived just fine. We’re among the dwindling number of people still keeping a landline in our home that my stepson Brendan can use whenever he likes, usually just to call his Mom. Of course Brendan broached the cell phone topic with us every once in a while, but never with enough fervor to get us to seriously consider it. It seemed like he just liked it in theory.

Besides, how many kids his age really have cell phones? Not many, we figured. 

Well, it turns out we may have figured wrong. A 2009 study conducted by a media and consumer research company showed one-third of 11-year-olds in the U.S. have cell phones, and I’d venture to guess that number has jumped since then. We also discovered this anecdotally when Brian attended a pizza party for Brendan’s fifth grade class. It was the end of the school day, and the teacher said it was okay for them to get out their cell phones. Nearly everyone in the class pulled out a phone! Brian couldn’t believe it. Brendan gave him a look as if to say, “see Dad, I toooooooold you so!”

So in the weeks leading up to his eleventh birthday, we began having the discussion of a cell phone as a present. His circle of friends is expanding and he’s inching closer to that stage of wanting to talk and text a lot. Even with…yikes…girls! But what if he loses it in a week? What if he racks up a bunch of minutes and we have to pay a huge bill? What if he takes it to his Mom’s house over the summer and forgets to bring it back? We were flooded with what-ifs.

As parents, here’s where we had to do the sometimes-scary thing and take a leap of faith in our child. How can we expect him to learn responsibility if we don’t give him chances to show he can be responsible with big things? It’s an opportunity for all three of us to grow. Plus, there’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing we can reach Brendan at the touch of a button. 

Of course we’ve laid some ground rules. If he loses the phone, he’ll pay for a new one out of his allowance. And if he can say something in a text message instead of a quick call, we’ve asked he try to utilize that as much as possible since we’re all sharing minutes on a family plan (thank goodness for unlimited texting options).

I think the cell phone was by far his favorite birthday present. Did he need a phone? No, of course not. But whether you agree with giving an 11-year-old a cell phone or not, I think he needed to know his parents trust him to be responsible with something big. That’s the greatest present of all.

What were your ground rules when your child got his or her first cell phone?

Megan Brooks is a Sr. Public Relations Specialist for Texas Health Resources and Stepmom with a baby on the way in November.

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