Parenting is hard: when to allow our kids to have mobile phones

As I write this, E1 is 7 years old and E2 is 5 years old. Yes, definitely too young to be having mobile phones, but these rascals grow so quickly! It seems like yesterday they were still doll-sized, so I just know they’ll be pre-teens in a blink of an eye. And wanting their own mobile phones. So to avoid having to respond in a wild-eyed, unprepared and panicked manner, I think we gotta plan now for when to allow our kids to have mobile phones. (*ugh*)

I definitely think anytime before they are in Grade 7 is too early. But after they are going to middle school and extra-curricular activities by themselves? I don’t think that age alone should be the determining factor. Hence this haphazard plan below.

I don’t profess to have a grand manifesto that I’ve been planning for ages. These are just some of the random ideas and “risk mitigation strategies” that have been floating around my head lately. Maybe I’ll add to this list or take things away as the years pass. Definitely this post will be updated as things change. Looking at this list below, the daughters are going to have to do a lot of work to convince me! That might be enough to discourage it for a few years. But who knows, i’m writing this now in 2015 without knowing what the social and technological environment will be like when they are 13 years old. I’ll try not to be too hard on myself if this current best-laid plan doesn’t work out.

Make me a presentation and convince me

At some point in our life, we all have to put together a presentation to influence a decision in our favour. In my line of work, I actually have to do it relatively regularly. So why not train my girls early in the tools and techniques of persuasion? If they want to have a mobile/smartphone, they’ll need to show me they’ve done the research to understand what my concerns are and their plans to address them.

I won’t care whether they make presentation slides, a video, a prezi, or poster boards, but they will need to be thorough and thoughtful and somewhat polished.

Addicted to distraction

One of my biggest fears is how easy it is to be addicted to the constant availability of distractions a smartphone or tablet provides. I know I constantly fight it, and I didn’t have a smartphone in my life until 2009. With these devices, there is never any need to be bored, as there is always chatting, music, games, videos, etc to occupy your attention. There is also dealing with the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). But without learning how to deal with the boring parts of life, I fear it will stunt their ability to self-regulate, to dream, to be introspective, and to be able to put themselves in someone else’s place to empathize.

Presentation topic to include: identify the ways they will self-determine whether they are becoming addicted to the technology.

There will also be a required reading list!

Phone etiquette

Since it is a phone first, I want to make sure they still know how to have proper phone etiquette. The test? To call and ask someone they don’t know, or don’t know very well, for some very specific information.

Bullying and self-esteem

It’s easy to feel that you’re liked when the things you post get a lot of likes, +1s, and <3s, but it’s also very easy to use that as a main measure of your influence on others and therefore base a lot of your self-esteem on it.

In the same vein, bullying can now follow you away from the physical encounters with bully to also follow wherever you have your device connected to the internet. What is sad is that the bullies may not even actually realize what they’re doing, if they haven’t learned to read others’ emotional reactions to flippant remarks made for laughs and attention.

That presentation that they’ll have to do will need to include the following:

  • what to do if they are being harassed or bullied online
  • how to protect themselves from giving “ammunition” to bullies
  • what they should do if they witness others being bullied online

I will need to add some good required reading–let me know if you have good recommendations!

Fees and costs

I understand that our family is lucky to be relatively well off, so the cost of a phone is not a terrible hardship that will break our household budget. In fact, by the time they want a phone, they will likely have enough in their piggy banks from all the past birthdays and Chinese New Years combined. But, I believe they need to understand the costs that will be incurred with a device, so this is another topic to add to the presentation.

They will have to research which is the best plan for their expected needs, and understand the ways they could be charged more.

They will also have to calculate how many hours someone working for minimum wage would need to earn before they can afford to buy the phone and to pay the monthly fees.

For bonus points, to take the top 5 applications they think they’ll be using and understand how those companies making those apps make money. (I’m looking at you, Facebook…but apparently that’s an “old people” app now)

Building to trust

Because they will still be young and I am still their parent, I reserve the right to occasionally go onto their phone to verify they are using it safely. The “Find my phone” app will be implemented and turned on. And we will have to go through a long process to build trust in each other, for their privacy, and their safety.

One factor that was recently brought to my attention is the difficulty parents now have on keeping tabs on who their kids’ friends are. When i was a kid, my friends had to phone my house, and so my parents had a good chance to talk to them, even briefly. Now with email and cell phones and chat programs, there are a myriad of ways that people can contact my child without my being aware.

I need to think about this one some more.

Not everything needs to be documented by photo or video

There was this great video passed around a few years ago on Youtube that followed around this woman in her day, and how everyone around her kept obsessively checking their phone or documenting the events to the detriment of actually experiencing the moments in a meaningful way. I can’t for the life of me find it now. Does anyone know which video it was?

Anyway, my opinion is to make sure that you fully engage and participate in things more than you are taking photos to document the fact you did it. In the long run, it’s not just the fact that you did something that matters. What matters is how the experience changed you, or caused you to react, or the memories of feelings you have at the time. Photos to help trigger these memories are great, but only if there is not an overwhelming number of them to go through.

Perhaps I’ll have them make a yearly photo album, to force them to curate their pictures for future reference?

To be continued…

So what about you? Are there any other factors that you think i’ve missed? I’d love to hear what other parents are planning for phone use for their kids, or what they’ve already decided (if their kids are in the preteens/teens).

Although if all else fails, I guess I could just copy and paste this great cell phone contract: “To My 13-year-old, An iPhone Contract From Your Mom, With Love“, by Janell Burley Hofmann, Huffington Post, Dec 28, 2012.