My 15-year-old daughter’s friends all seem to have cell phones. She’s pushing hard, and her father sees nothing wrong with giving her one. Just my hang-up?
Hello? Here’s a scary statistic. A recent survey said 75% of kids between the ages 14 and 17 have cell phones. The rest live in the Himalayas. Not really. The survey is of American teens.
Why am I scared by this? Because of worries about brain damage caused by cell phones? Hardly. Because of talking while driving? Somewhat. Because of overblown bills? Sort of. My biggest fear? Cell phones open up to kids a whole new peer world that parents have a cell of a time monitoring.
Cell phones are wondrous pieces of technology. They have become nearly everyone’s miniature companions. Even my 80-year-old mother, long among inveterate cell-resisting adults, can’t imagine leaving the house without her ever-present link to everybody. The problem is not the technology itself, although it has dramatically changed our social landscape — some would argue for the better, some for the worse. (Does anybody talk to anyone in person uninterrupted anymore?)
The problem comes when technology interacts with age — not my mother’s, but with youth. Cell phones enable and encourage kids to reach out and touch someone, anyone, lots of anyones, some good to contact, some bad. It’s real hard for a parent to know whom Belle is talking with about what, when, where and how much. Cell phones open up a much wider social world, a world that a parent can’t oversee remotely as well as she can a youngster’s face-to-face interactions.
Most kids don’t use a cell to break the law, buy marijuana or cheat on tests. The negatives of phone use are more subtle and insidious. They involve the most everyday communications between kids.
Teens have lots of immature ideas about what is socially cool, what is romantic, what is desirable, what is permitted, what can be gotten away with. Teens can also be pretty sheep-like. They are prone to the influence of the flock’s ideas and behaviors. Part of growing up morally means not getting too enamored with popular peer group notions about life. This means parents have to keep a close ear on what things their kids are hearing, liking and considering. Cell phones are the perfect medium for teens to exchange all kinds of peer talk — some good, some bad, all private.
“But Dr. Ray, I want to know where my son is.” Certainly. But how do you know for sure? Do you have the ability to trace the location of the call? Cells don’t come with GPS homing devices — yet. Locations are far easier to confirm with a landline.
“It’s so much more convenient. They can call me when I need to pick them up.” Okay; purchase a phone with a 10-minute monthly limit. Or get one that can only receive or call pre-programmed numbers. They have them now, even in the Himalayas.
“It’s for safety purposes.” Again, refer to the above response. Or give the phone to Alexander only when he leaves the house for particular activities or reasons. Look over each monthly call list. There should be no unexplained calls. If so, consider disconnecting — for a time or indefinitely. Your call.
I am not a back-to-nature psychologist. I am not recommending no cell technology whatsoever. Sadly, I spend a lot more time on mine than I’d prefer. But I am strongly advising that you resist the cultural flow on this decision. The statistic that 75% of kids above 14 have a cell makes the reality neither good nor socially healthy. Some day your daughter will have her own cell phone. That day should not be when 92% of her friends have one but when you will have judged her mature enough to use the cell phone wisely. Maybe when she’s married.
One final call. Ask your daughter, “Why do you want a cell phone so much?” Savvy kids will initially cite the above reasons that most parents cite. They know what they’re supposed to say. Give your daughter the responses I gave you. Then wait to see what other arguments she makes. You might just hear some things that will confirm your impulse to hold the line. Get your husband to listen to this interchange. Call him on his cell if you have to.
Dr. Ray’s new book is
Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It.
Go to DrRay.com for more info.