I’ve been thinking about cell phones over the past week. Specifically, smart phones. For 12 year olds. It all started when our youngest and I were sitting at the dining room table working on jewelry to help raise money for the school in Africa. Suddenly, her nose got red and I saw tears in her eyes. She hates to cry in front of me, so she leaned her head back to try to keep the tears from sliding down her cheeks.
Me: Are you crying?
12 Year Old: Some kids at school are making fun of me.
(I thought I could guess where this conversation was headed, but I was wrong).
I put down what I was working on and looked in her eyes.
Me: Honey, why are other kids making fun of you?
12 Year Old: Because I don’t have a cell phone or an iPad. (The irony of this conversation and what we were working on at that moment was not lost on me.)
Me: Excuse me?
12 Year Old: It makes me sad.
Me: They’re making fun of you?
12 Year Old: And it’s annoying.
I shook my head because, honestly, I was confused.
Me: You actually have friends who are making fun of you because you don’t have a cell phone or an iPad?
I realized that I was a few steps behind in this conversation because tears were now streaming down her face and I was still trying to wrap my mind around what she had told me. When I was in sixth grade I was also made fun of at school, but it was because I wore gaucho pants with red Converse tennis shoes almost every day. Although that sounds comical, it hurt terribly when I realized kids were laughing behind my back, and so I don’t ever ignore the “making fun of me” conversation. But really, this one made no sense. Here was my beautiful, friendly, social, stylish daughter telling me that she was being teased because she didn’t own a cell phone or an iPad. Apparently kids bring these devices to school and flash them around like, oh, I don’t know…status symbols. In sixth grade.
Forgive me if I seem behind the times. We thought we were indulging our older kids when they were 13 and 14 and we bought a flip phone (with no texting capability) for them to share. And they weren’t allowed to take it to school. What has happened in nine years? So now, my kid is out of step because she isn’t carrying around a device on which she can access the Internet 24 hours a day. I know I sound like my mother, but I don’t care. After empathizing with my daughter’s feelings, I firmly explained to her why she was not going to get a smart phone for a few years. In the course of our conversation about all the “whys”, I told her this: Grownups have enough trouble behaving themselves on social media. I don’t expect that adolescent kids do any better.
There is something about social media sites that makes some people feel like they can say things and express opinions that should never be uttered in a face-to-face conversation. I’ve watched people slam other people in the comments on Facebook with an ugliness that makes me cringe. And I’ve seen exchanges (arguments) escalate until the original person who posted had to step in and ask that everyone please stop the conversation because they had not intended such ugliness to be splattered all over their page. This really isn’t intended to be a rant on Facebook behavior (although some might argue it’s time), but instead, a plea.
I have been a parent long enough to know better than to question, judge, or hand out opinions on anyone else’s parenting. I didn’t birth or adopt your kid, so it’s not my place to get into the business of how you raise your kid. But here is what I would ask: If you choose to get your 12-year-old a smart phone or a nifty tablet device, kindly inform your child that not all children have one. Let your child know that there are cruel parents out there depriving their kids of these necessities, and that instead of making fun of these poor souls, they should treat them nicely. Ask your child not to wave their electronics in the deprived children’s faces and then inquire of them why they do not own cool things. These deprived children are not going to take up the parent’s rally cry for no smart phones or tablets. Although my daughter seemed pretty okay with our logical reasons why she will not get a smart phone or tablet for a few years, I doubt she gathered her school friends around the next day and gave an eloquent, stirring speech about cyber-bullying and bad behavior on Facebook. I’m sure she didn’t inform them how much it costs for the data plan or that her parents would like to wait until she’s older before they have to endure her face buried in a screen at the dinner table every evening. She’s probably still slinking around the playground and hallways, avoiding the question, “Why don’t you have one of these?”
I’m chained to my smart phone, as is my husband and our oldest daughter. And it will be that way from now on because it appears these devices aren’t going anywhere. We can’t live without them, so why rush our children into this bondage as well? So I’m letting it be known that I will happily trot to the phone store this fall when our daughter starts middle school and buy her the dumbest phone on the market. I’m gathering she’ll be one of the very few at her school brandishing one of these terrible sliders or flips, so I’m preparing her for this and hoping the middle-schoolers don’t give her too much grief. Parents, if our kids end up in school together, thanks for giving your child a heads-up that not all kids with dumb phones are dumb. Just deprived.