My daughter Maya just wrapped up kindergarten and began summer camp at her old daycare. She was overjoyed to be reunited with the friends she’s had since she was three months old, and couldn’t wait for upcoming field trips with the other “school-agers.”
On the first day of camp, she was pumped and ready to go. I went in her room to wake her up and was surprised to find she was already dressed, had brushed her teeth, and was even wearing socks and sneakers. Who is this kid?! I wondered. Mornings at our house usually involve mass chaos and (I’m ashamed to admit) some yelling … this was a breeze–and surely an anomaly!
I gave her some sunscreen to stuff in her backpack, planted a kiss on the top of her head, and she was on her merry way. I knew she’d learn many new things at camp, but I was not expecting what happened at dinner that first week: she asked us for a phone.
Maya (excited, breathless): Mommy, I *need* a phone. (So-and-so) has a phone!
Me (visibly shocked, dropping my fork): Wait, what?! No way, I don’t care if (so-and-so) has one. You are only six! Besides, who would you even call?!!
Maya (pause, pleading eyes): You. To tell you how much I love you every day.
I chuckled at her response because it was sweet and she’s a master negotiator and persuader already, but it did force me to entertain the million-dollar question: when is the appropriate age to get a kid a phone? Is there a “right” age?
Personally, 6 seems insanely young to me–but I also don’t know “so-and-so’s” parents’ reasoning. Maybe it was just an old phone they allow their kids to use for music and texting on wifi, like several friends have told me is their reasoning. Maybe it’s a phone they use to help manage a medical condition, like another friend shared has been her son’s experience. Maybe her friend’s parents are divorced/separated and that’s how they communicate when apart, or if one parent is often traveling for business. Truthfully, the reasoning behind their decision to give their own child a phone is none of my dang business–except that now, all of a sudden, my daughter thinks she needs one, too!
Sigh … This is how it begins. Kids are observant little creatures. It starts small. They will be the first to tell you that “so and so” got a fidget spinner. Then it turns into, “So and so” has two American Girl dolls. “So and so” got his own iPad. And the list goes on.
While it’s developmentally normal for kids to want the shiny cool things their friends have, it’s our job as parents to decide if/when it’s appropriate for our child. Likewise, it’s our job to instill in them that although we may want many things in life, we should be grateful and appreciative for what we have; not every kid will have a cell phone and that’s OK.
After I tucked her in, I started doing a little informal online research and learned there’s really no definitive answer as to when kids should have a cell phone. According to Common Sense Media, “The right age to give kids their first cell phone is really up to parents. Age isn’t as important a kid’s maturity level, ability to follow home (and their schools’) rules, and their sense of responsibility.”
That said, it seems that around middle school (generally ages 10-13) is when kids today tend to get their first phones. Since my daughter is only six, we’re likely more than a couple years away from that purchase–but I know it’ll be here before we know it–which makes me laugh/cry/laugh because I didn’t get my first cell phone until my senior year of college (when they really became a “thing”)–and even then, phones were not smart phones; they were just good old fashioned cell phones just a smidge smaller than the kind Zach used in “Saved By The Bell!”
Of course, I wish we’d had them when I was in high school, because I can think of several instances when having a cell phone would have come in handy. I grew up in rural northern N.J. My school was 20 minutes away, the mall an hour, and so forth. I still can remember standing in line at my high school waiting to call my parents collect if I had no change on me, and cheerleading or track practice ended early.
We survived because mobile communication just wasn’t part of our way of life back then.
But today, cell phones are our lifelines–connecting parents to children, friends to family, and providing us an endless toolbox of resources at our fingertips. There’s no going back to the days of pay phones. My daughter will get a cell phone when my husband and I agree it’s the right time for her. But I can assure you, it won’t be now–at age 6–simply because “so and so” has one.