My ten-year old really wants a smartphone for Christmas.
My ten-year old is going to be really disappointed on Christmas morning.
Why? Well, first of all, she’s ten. And unless she’s staying home alone (she’s not), or travelling to and from anywhere on her own (nope) or running her own company (also no), there’s no reason for her to have a phone.
I know it’s a want, not a need, and I remember what it was like to yearn for that one particular item, bargaining with your parents and making ridiculous promises about your behaviour and your attitude you never intend to keep.
Cabbage Patch Preemie dolls, Roots Sweatshirts, a portable CD player … I pined and whined for all of it so I’m sympathetic to my daughter and I understand how she’s convinced herself that life cannot be enjoyable, meaningful and complete without a phone.
But I also know that it’s good for parents to hold off for as long as they can because once we go there, there’s no turning back. Then it’s the data plans, and the hardware upgrades, and the cases, and fixing broken screens and on and on and on.
And if you have more than one kid you already know they’re watching and aware of everything the oldest one gets and when.
My daughter has had an iPad since she was five and there’s nothing she can do on a phone that she can’t do on the tablet including text, Facetime, watch videos and download her favourite apps. I guess she could actually call someone but I’m raising her to conduct all interactions though text, like normal people.
But how to explain all this to her? “Because I said so” isn’t a fair or effective answer when kids are asking for things we’re not ready for them to have. Tell your kid “because I said so” and you’ll discover a tenacity you never knew they had and only wish they’d apply to their math homework.
When my kid is coming at me about the phone it’s really tempting to throw out an age two or three years from now in the hope that shuts her up. But for my kid, that would only lead to more questions.
“Why do I have to wait until I’m twelve?”
“What’s so special about twelve?”
“So-and-so’s mom said she could get one when she was eleven. Why do I have to be twelve?”
Open eye, insert fork.
To be fair, this is important to her and she’s asking a legitimate question so now I say: “You can have a phone when Daddy and I decide you’re responsible” and then we give her tangible, actionable next steps such as “When you show us you’re able to take care of it by no longer leaving your iPad behind everywhere we go or dropping it in the toilet.”
We give her small tasks like walking her sister home from school, remembering to feed the pets every day, taking care of her own goldfish, proactively keeping her room tidy and learning to save her allowance so she can demonstrate awareness of the type of responsibility required to have a phone.
This is kind of like telling someone at work why they’re not getting a raise:
Well Janet, as a general rule this company doesn’t arbitrarily hand out salary increases just because you want one and feel you’re ready, but here are all the ways you can improve your performance so when the time comes for a promotion your name will be at the top of the list.
So yes, the “when can I have a phone” conversation is another way running a family is like running a company (minus the salary, paid vacations and blissfully child-free environment).
I also tell my daughter that when she starts spending more time away from home without us, we will consider a phone for reasons of safety and practicality.
A ten-year old with a phone she’s not mature enough to have is a recipe for disaster. If your kid, like mine, doesn’t truly understand internet safety, the repercussions of sexting, and how to deal with cyber-bullying then giving her the means to do or experience all of that, and allowing her to walk around with it unsupervised, is not a good idea.
But answering with logic can be a wasted effort. My daughter doesn’t want to hear “because you don’t need a phone,” because it’s not about the functionality of a phone for her. It’s about wanting that tiny little status symbol to impress her friends with.
Since none of her classmates have phones, I can only assume there’s now a race to see who’s first, kind of like “racing” to see who’ll get their period first. And like actually having your period, owning a phone probably won’t live up to the hype. It might actually turn out to be a pain in the ass leaving her wondering why she wanted this thing so badly in the first place.
I don’t believe in giving pets as gifts, and I think the same can apply to phones. Gifts imply frivolity and a lack of responsibility; they’re supposed to be given without strings or expectations, which is NOT the message I want to send about owning a phone.
So another Christmas will go by without a phone under the tree. Somehow my daughter will survive (probably) and the questions about “when” will begin anew, especially when she turns eleven in April.
Until then, I’ll start thinking of all the things I can give her to do that she couldn’t possibly be successful at in order to prevent having to actually give in.
Doesn’t look like you’re going to have that roast duck on the table in time for our twelve-person dinner party, sweetie. Sorry, I guess you’re just not ready for a phone.
Just kidding I would never do that.*
*I would totally do that