My daughter just turned 13, and she’s been begging me to let her have a cell phone. For a couple of years, I’ve told her she can’t have one until she can pay for it herself. But she scored some cash from her grandparents for her birthday, and she wants to spend it.
I explained that buying a cell phone doesn’t mean you can just start making calls, or sending texts, which seems to be how kids communicate these days. I explained to her that you have to buy a phone plan from one of the soul-sucking telephone companies that will charge you hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege — and typically you have to commit to a two-year contract.
She didn’t really understand how this all works (welcome to the club). I sent her to the AT&T and Verizon websites so she could research how much it would cost her to add a phone to one of her parents’ monthly plans.
Negotiating said websites took much more time than it should have. Finally, she figured out that half of her monthly allowance would end up going to basic cell phone use — and that’s if she doesn’t go over her allotted minutes of talk time (and it seems her dad’s plan offers the better deal).
But I really wonder why a 13-year-old needs a cell phone. Her argument is that the majority of her friends have them. My response? “So what? Why do they need them?” She argued: “What if you’re late picking me up and need to let me know?” Weak, I said. Mostly because there’s usually an adult nearby whose cell phone number I have in those situations. Plus I’m rarely late.
I’m concerned that she’ll lose or break the phone. I’m also afraid that cells can inhibit independence. A friend who works with incoming freshman at a college in South Carolina recently told me that she sees lots of students who call or text their parents every time they’re confronted with a decision — regardless of its magnitude (i.e., should I eat pizza or tacos for dinner? Really?). Because they can, I suppose. But teenagers, in particular, need to separate from their guardians and start learning to make decisions for themselves and be resilient when faced with the unknown.
That said, kids do come up with the most amazing things every once in a while. After debating the matter with me for a long time, then talking to her dad about it on the phone, my girl disappeared into her room. After awhile, she emerged and handed me a bullet-point list of pros and cons that she’d written up.
Here are her pros of getting her own cell phone:
• Can call people and text
• It’ll be cool.
• Phone is free!! (She figured that out from her research).
• Can get help with homework by calling people to ask questions.
• Can keep in touch with friends I don’t see much.
• Not be the last one to get a cell.
• The monthly plan costs money.
• Do I really need it? I can use home phone and parents’ cells.
• The radiation (this is another of her Mom’s concerns).
• May be a distraction.
• Distraction could affect grades.
I read through this while she re-read it over my shoulder. Then she said, “The cons seem stronger than the pros. Now I think I should wait to get a cell phone.”
I agreed with her. And I realized that she’d just talked herself out of it — without whining or getting upset. My little girl isn’t really a little girl anymore. She might actually be in the process of becoming a thoughtful, rational, fairly responsible teenager. Holy heck.