Tough call

Kids and cell phones: Should it happen? If so, when? Do the benefits outweigh the hassle, or vice versa? Come see where we stand and be sure to chime in.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: Should kids be allowed to have cell phones?

The Salgados

There is a certain person in our family, who shall remain nameless (cough, Jorge, cough) who has an addiction to cell phones. For years friends have been visiting our home only to find brand new-looking cell phones in the toy box. They bring them to us with a look of concern, sure they have now become an instant hero for finding the phone we have been searching for.

“Oh thanks, but that phone is from 3 months ago. The kids play with now – it really is a toy,” I try to explain.

I kid you not, I cannot even count the number of phones that have passed through our hands over the years. The love of gadgetry runs deep and has apparently been passed on into the very DNA of our oldest son who happens to be only nine years old. He asks us on a regular basis when he will be able to get a cell phone. Every time this happens I glance over at the direction of my husband whose eye brows are doing the “Why not?” sort of expression. This is the child who can barely remember his own phone number because he rarely ever even touches a phone. Not exactly the chatty Cathy in our bunch.

When does it become appropriate for a child to have their own phone? I can see the advantages of allowing your ten-year-old to have one, but I’m not sure if there is an actual need. I can call when I’m running late for a pick up, or he can let me know when he’s forgotten his glasses. There is also the emergency and safety argument as a phone can give me instant access. Learning to be responsible and taking a step towards independence might be potential life lessons for our soon to be tween.

While it probably isn’t exactly necessary, being lovers of technology and true geekness will be the real reason we invest in a phone for our son in the next year or so.

For better or worse, we will be texting and checking twitter 24/7 not only right beside him, but hopefully to him, in the best and geekiest way

The Catrows

No one had cell phones when we were growing up. Some fancy people had car phones, and I vaguely remember when Ross’s parents brought home this newfangled “flip phone” that just about blew my mind. But it just wasn’t a “thing” then. Landlines and pay phones were our only options.

And, man, it was a pain.

I lived in constant fear of the off chance that I might not be able to get home when I said I would, terrified of what would be waiting for me on the other side of my front door. My mom always said, “If you’re going to be late, just call, I won’t be mad.” And I’m sure she wouldn’t have been, had I ever been able to call her without having to move the sun, moon, and stars to locate a working pay phone.

Needless to say, kids and parents being able to get in touch with each other was a major point of contention when we were growing up – the cause of much drama, strife, and slamming doors.

Luckily, thanks to cell phones, that will likely be a conflict we’ll be able to avoid as our boy gets older.

We are currently of the mind cell phones are great for kids in the right situations. For an eight-year-old who never goes anywhere and just wants to call his friends to talk about what happened in P.E.? No dice. But a cell phone used as a safety measure for an 11-year-old who is at the point where he’s making solo bike trips to go hang out with friends? Absolutely.

We do, however, understand the concerns some parents have with this. What if they keep misplacing the damn thing? Aren’t they going to just run the bill up to high heaven? What happens if they lose the ability to speak and/or write in phrases other than OMG, IDK, and LOL?

As with any privilege you give your child (and cell phones most definitely should be framed as such), you need to make guidelines clear …and, for the love of God, stick to them. When the time comes for our son to get his own cell phone, you better believe that we will be mind-numbingly explicit concerning how the cell phone will and will not be used and about what will happen should he step out of line. And if he does step out of line, there will be follow-through.

As a parent, why wouldn’t you want your kids to have access to something that not only allows you to have more direct communication, but could also potentially keep them safer? All parenting choices have pros and cons, each with their own sets of battles and bullshit through which you must endlessly trudge. But in this case, it seems to us that the benefits greatly outweigh the potential headaches.

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Patience Salgado

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