I have a love/hate relationship with my iPhone. I love it, because…well, what’s not to love? (Besides the fact that I can’t see websites built with Flash – really, Apple, we STILL can’t see Flash? Really? Okay. Thanks for the shitty maps, though.) I love having my calendar, email, and camera right in my pocket and I especially love playing crossword puzzles in waiting rooms instead of reading ancient magazines.
I hate it, because I can’t ever seem to put the damned thing DOWN. I almost wish I had a second phone that just worked as, y’know, A PHONE, so that I could receive calls from my hubby but still actually get things done. It seems like I can’t ever disconnect myself from Facebook and Instagram, and it’s almost embarrassing. And talk about a point of contention between my husband and me – he hates it when people are glued to their phones anyway, and gets especially testy when he’s trying to hold my attention and I’m scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. We smartphone users are some rude motherfuckers, that’s for sure. And don’t try to act like you’re not one of them. You know you are.
As much as I love having a little world of information right in my pocket and at my fingertips, I recognize the how dangerously addicting it is having a smartphone. If a grown-ass woman like myself can’t go to sleep at night without surreptitiously playing Draw Something under the covers, how can any of us expect our children to be able to handle the responsibility of having a smartphone? The answer is: we can’t. Which is why my kids will never have one, until they are old enough to sign up for their very own data plan.
I have heard story after story after story – from parents I know personally – about kids who have gotten into mischief using a smartphone/iTouch. Much of it involves breaking rules about playing video games after hours or downloading apps without permission, but much more of it has been about chatting with potentially dangerous people or being bullied by other kids via social media. It happens – ALL THE TIME.
A few weeks ago, my 4th grader was at a sleepover where one of the girls had an iTouch. They were chatting via Facetime with a classmate of theirs, when things started to get ugly. The girls started to get uncomfortable with what was being said in some recorded videos and forwarded a couple of them to me. Let me tell you, I was freakin’ STUNNED. I know girls can be catty, petty, even dare I say BITCHY, beginning at a young age. But my jaw literally fell open when I saw what this ten-year-old girl was saying to my daughter’s friend. I couldn’t get that ten-year-old’s mom on the phone fast enough, and guess what? She was just as floored by all of it as I was. I won’t forget her crushed expression and the tears in her eyes as she dragged her kid over in her pajamas to apologize. I am sure she assumed her daughter was just playing Fruit Ninja and having nice little conversations with her friends about Justin Bieber. We all would like to think our kids are angelic, but…yeah, no. Kids are sneaky! My kids, your kids – pretty much ALL KIDS. If you give them this technology, which WE can’t even handle, well…what do you THINK is going to happen?
I heard a story today from a friend that was damned disturbing, and unfortunately all too common. Evidently, my friend’s colleague discovered that her PRETEEN daughter had been communicating with a stranger in his twenties via a chat app called Omegle. This is an app designed specifically for chatting with strangers – something we try to steer our children away from every day of their lives – and a child was wrapped up in it, even going so far as to send pictures of herself to this creep. The girl’s mother got law enforcement involved, who told her that this guy was essentially grooming the girl for a future encounter. This is the sort of thing that scares the hell out of me. I know we’d all like to believe that our kids would be smarter – would be safer – would never fall prey to someone intending to hurt them – but God forbid we’re wrong.
My kids continue to ask for phones for birthdays and Christmas, and I continue to laugh and tell them no way. My opinion, and keep in mind that I’m a little jaded from the cell phone shenanigans my oldest pulled during her early teens: little kids do not need cell phones! There is no place my kids are going to be where there aren’t ADULTS AROUND. If they need to call me, A PHONE IS AVAILABLE. When they get to the age where they’re away from adults for any substantial length of time – say, walking home from middle school – then we’ll talk about getting a phone. But I guarantee you that phone will be the kind that makes calls and sends texts ONLY, and we’ll be policing that shit like crazy. Hell, my oldest is SEVENTEEN and her (very basic) phone shuts down at 11 p.m. and doesn’t turn back on until 6:30 a.m. Parental controls. Look into it. Every carrier offers it. And, pardon my cranky old lady attitude, but – kids should be riding bikes and drawing with sidewalk chalk, not texting. They’re little for like, FIVE MINUTES, you guys. Let them be little kids.
I know not everyone shares my opinion – LOTS of my kids’ friends have phones already, or iTouches, or even iPhones! And I’m not judging anyone for it, I promise. You do what works for YOU and your family. (Also, I’m a cheap bastard!) I’m just saying, don’t assume that your kids are responsible enough to handle the temptation of what is instantly available, when WE can’t even set our phones down for five minutes. Be snoopy! Poke around! Don’t let them set a password. Make sure they’re following the rules you lay down.
Let me know what you think – do your kids use Smartphones? What do you think is an appropriate age for a child to get a phone?