To give or not to give your child a cell phone?

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Every afternoon at approximately 2:50 PM (just as school ends) it begins.

Ping! Ping!  Ping!

Without even checking, I know it’s my 12-year-old daughter “pinging” me with questions and requests as she sends messages from her iPad to mine.  Of course, she expects me to drop everything and respond — after all, what else could be more important, right?

Wrong!

Nevertheless, I am usually amused by her messages and, every once in a while, they come in handy as I’m able to remind her of things she has to do before I will consider granting her wishes.

The good news is that up until now she and her two brothers, ages 13 and 11, have been content with using an iPod or iPad.  They access the Internet (monitored by stalker Mom and Dad), listen to music, play games, do research for homework, and connect with friends — as long as there’s WiFi, that is.

The not-so-good-news is that I know that won’t last much longer.  In fact, the requests for cell phones have already become a regular occurrence.  “But mom, my friends all have phones, and some of them are even younger than me,” says my youngest son.  And then there’s the “emergency” card.  “What if something bad happens and we need to reach you right away?” they ask.

Okay, so they do have a point and there are definitely “peace-of-mind” advantages to consider.  There’s also the fact that I am completely enamored with the Internet and the world of social media as a way of learning new things and building business through building relationships.  For work, I’m connected all day and love it.

So why hesitate when it comes to the kids? Well, because there are some things to consider.

First, there’s the issue of responsibility.  Having a cell phone is a privilege and children need to understand when, where and how to use it responsibly – and securely. They also need to be more aware than ever of the fact that what they post, text and tweet is permanent.  Once it’s out there, they can’t take it back.  They also need to be responsible enough to take care of these expensive little devices, which brings us to the question of cost.

Have you priced cell phones lately?  My husband and I recently purchased good android phones, but they cost a small fortune, at least we think so.  Now we’re considering three more for the same kids who are famous for leaving their “prized possessions” strewn about the house?  Gulp!

Third, do they really need cell phones at such young ages?  My husband doesn’t think so and is sure that they will be used primarily for playing games.  As for me, I can see the value in at least investing in basic phones for use when they are away from home.  We’ll see.

Finally, there’s the fear factor.  For some reason, cell phones seem a bit like the “Wild West” when it comes to kids.  If cell phones are supposed to help keep us connected, why am I afraid of feeling disconnected?  Could it be because I’m not sure I’m ready to relinquish control?  For those of you who know me, you can stop shaking your heads!  Yes, that’s why.  While I will be able to keep a close watch on their cell phone use, I will no longer have complete control over their relationships.   As a mom, it’s just plain hard to trust and let go.

Like it or not, though, that time is drawing near.  Of course, we have some serious talking to do about the responsibility and security issues, as well as have some big-time persuading to do on the Dad front.  As for the cost, I think the kids can and should help.  It’s time to break out those hidden stashes of birthday cash.  There’s definitely some truth to kids taking better care of the things they help pay for.  The letting go part will be the hardest, but I take comfort in knowing that my kids are pretty awesome and make me very proud.

No cell phones are on order just yet, but we’re getting closer.  For now, I plan to continue to (secretly) enjoy those afternoon “pings” and look forward to whatever comes next.

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts in the comment box below. 

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About Mary Jane Kinkade

I am the Director of Marketing and Development at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, South Jersey's premier Catholic high school for young women. I am mom to three amazing kids, married to my best friend, and happiest when at the beach (writing, of course!).
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