I remember being nine, and all I wanted that Christmas was a phone for my bedroom. I couldn’t wait to twirl that phone cord between my fingers and chat for hours with best friends on my New Kids on the Block sleeping bag, and yell at my younger brother for quietly grabbing the phone downstairs in attempts to listen in. I asked in every tangible way a nine year old could and left subtle hints all over the house. So, when the Christmas tree was decorated and gifts started making their way under its evergreen branches, there it was: a box wrapped, just for me, shaped just like I imagined a phone would be. Christmas morning came, and as I tore off the paper and fumbled to un-tape the cardboard rectangular enclosure, my eyes widened: it was an electric pencil sharpener.
Fast forward to the present. My nine year old daughter comes home almost daily asking for a smart phone. She gives all of her logical reasons, mostly “I want to text my friends!” (you are with them eight hours a day, why do you need to text them?) or “I want to text you, Mom!” (I actually would love this), or “I want to be famous on Instagram!” (Um, nope). Nonetheless, she is in the minority of child smart phone users: most of her friends own some sort of mobile device with internet access. But not in my home.
No, my nine year old doesn’t have a smart phone.
“But I want my child to be able to contact me whenever they want.”
“They are old enough to be responsible with the phone, you are keeping her little longer.”
“They cannot connect with their friends and are missing out on sharing fun photos of their lives.”
My daughter is nine. She is in elementary school. Her teachers have phones. If she is not in school, she is with another adult or relative that, at all times, has a mobile device with them. There is truly no way that someone could not contact me if my daughter needed me and I was not with her. (I do have friends, however, that have a smart phone with their diabetic child that monitors her blood sugar. Completely different situation.) Smart phones are insanely expensive devices that crack or malfunction easily. The thought of giving my child such an expensive piece of equipment when, more often than not, she loses at least one of her ballet shoes weekly, does not add up with me.
We all want our children to be greater than we are. To grow up and live fuller, more lovely lives of their own. And, even though I use social media for both business and personal use, I truly do not believe owning a smart phone or having instant access to social media has made my life fuller or richer. It has not made me a more beautiful woman, a greater mother, or a more respected professional. Social media, for some of us, is a necessary evil. But that evil does not have to bleed over into the innocence of outdoor play, tea parties, and walks in the park. Does my nine year old really need an Instagram shot of her Goldfish and Capri Sun?
Instead of allowing my nine year old to taste the fruit, yes I am keeping her little longer. The internet can be a scary, dark place. We will keep buying Shopkins, Barbies, and chapter books. She can still watch her favorite shows on her tablet–just not with internet access. And we allow her to facetime her out of town friends–from her mother’s phone. I want my daughter to be fully present in her friendships, not fully absorbed on her phone.
So, after that fateful Christmas with the electric pencil sharpener, I decided to stop asking for a phone. The following year, at a sleepover for my 10th birthday, I finally got my bedroom phone, that came with a list of 10 phone rules that was hand written by my dad on a piece of notebook paper. My favorites? “When calling a friend, always ask their parents’ permission using the phrase, ‘Hi, this is Christie. May I speak to Tasha, please?'” and also “Always click over for call waiting,” “You are not allowed to call boys,” and “No 800 or 900 phone calls without permission.”