The Great Phone Debate


My daughter has been asking for a cell phone since she was in second grade. Second grade! That is insanity to me.

I had to wait until the morning of my 16th birthday to receive the very first brick Nokia. It was 2002 and cell phone options were primitive and limited. There were three basic functions of my cell phone: call, text, and the game Snake. Keyboards didn’t exist and typing was preceded by something called T9. I felt very special when a friend gifted me a see-through purple phone cover. Not a case, y’all; the actual face came off and you could replace it with different “covers”. It was a wild time.

Anyway, the phone debate has been strong in my house for years. Until recently, we knew the answer to a request for a phone would be a hard no. She was never away from us long enough, without some way of contacting her, to find it necessary. There’s no way in my mind that my seven-year-old would be capable of using a cell phone responsibly.

We had substitutions for a while: a walkie-talkie style device that allows talking back-and-forth and has a GPS tracker and an old cell phone that was no longer in service, but still connected to the WiFi. Not perfect solutions, but we definitely favored them over a full-fledged cell phone.

The years passed by, and the phone debate eventually seemed like a nonissue. My husband and I agreed that she didn’t need one. Until one day when we woke up and thought, “Hmm. Maybe it’s time”.

I feel like this is an important moment because it applies to so many different aspects of parenting.

We battle ourselves over everything from breastfeeding or bottle, or educating through public school or home, or how to effectively discipline our kids, or choosing which extracurricular activities to try. We put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to “get it right”. When, too often, we forget that our end game is the same. We all want happy and healthy children.

My husband and I didn’t know it was the right time to allow our daughter to have a cell phone until it was time.

She had a birthday coming up, and because of her good grades, emotional maturity, and newfound independence that so many tweens crave, we just knew. It was time. We had put this decision off for as long as we possibly could, and now giving her this block of (scary) technology and (even more) independence seemed right. Hard, but right.

I am not naïve to the dangers of giving a pre-teen a cell phone. I lived through the birth of chat rooms, where you knew to never give your real name. You definitely didn’t answer the question, “A/S/L?” either.

I get it. The internet is a weird place, but with some rules put into place and the aforementioned maturity growth, I feel that the benefits outweigh the risks.

I think that that’s why it’s so important to not compare your own family system with those of your friends or neighbors. It’s way too easy to do, but it doesn’t benefit us in the long run. What’s best for another family might not be what works for yours, and that’s okay.

Just because my spouse and I feel that our daughter is ready for a cell phone doesn’t mean that you have to be on the same page. There’s nothing good or bad about these decisions. They just are. As I said before, sometimes you just know when the time is right.

So, imagine the surprise on this little girl’s face when, on the morning of her 11th birthday, she opened her presents to find her very own, fancy cellular device. We had it all set up for her – list of rules included – and were genuinely happy to hand it over. She was in sincere shock and I’m convinced she was holding back tears.

It felt right, every single bit of it. From the initial conversation about the possibility of taking this next step, to calling the phone company and adding her to our family plan, to setting up the phone and putting on her case, to watching her hold it in her hands.

All of it felt like we were ready, together, to take a leap into this new world.


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