Last week I shared the story about my $1055 cell phone bill, courtesy of my teenage son. The article seemed to, um, resonate with a lot readers, not only here but at MSN where it was also featured as a guest post, and on Digg, where at last count it had received 111 votes.
Many of the comments bagged on my parenting skills. Some just wrote in to voice their displeasure with me, like this one over at MSN:
“This article is a FRAUD! Hey Penzo, I’ll NEVER read anything you write again!” – SLSHUSKER
I found many of the comments over at Digg to be particularly amusing. Here is just a small sample:
“I say he deserves to pay the bill if he’s that clueless about texting. (Or just tell the kid now he can’t go to college.)” – Seattlegirluw
“A sensationalist worthless article with a headline that was outright misleading.” – mysql101
“Stopped reading after the awful AT&T joke.” – KSOVII
“The author is an attention whore, that’s all.” – strfx
“What kind of f***ing mental defective is writing this article?” – RizzosBack
“Seriously, what the f*** is ‘PTL’? I’ve never heard that in my entire life.” – Dabek
“Why do you think I would listen to anything you have to say regarding technology you’ve never f***ing used? One of the worst submissions I’ve seen on Digg.” – bigsheldy
“I’m still confused whether the author is male or lesbian. If he is a male, why does he write like a chick?” – HailfireX
I’m still trying to figure all that out myself, HailfireX.
Meanwhile, the comments at the MSN message board attempted to focus a bit more on the debate between whether or not cell phones were appropriate for kids:
“Why does a 12 and/or 13 year old child (yes, they’re still CHILDREN at that age) need a cell phone? Even if they’re paying – or supposed to be paying – for use of the phone, I still fail to see why a middle schooler needs a cell phone.” – Can we take a closer look please
“CHILDREN don’t NEED cell phones! Especially that young. If they HAVE to have one…get one that doesn’t perform all the tricks!!!” – k64to know
“Can’t say a cell phone for a 12 year old would qualify for ‘need’. However, most of us live in a world where both parents work, and the children are forced to move from school to some day care, or go home alone. For that reason alone I would give a child a cell phone at any age.” – Dawn K.
“You’re an idiot to give a 12 year old a cell phone. What’s next, credit cards at 14?” – jjsjjsva
“Dummy is not the word I would use to describe this parent. As parents we need to watch over our children, and I am sorry, a 12 or 13 year old does not need a phone.” - foreign born
The Great Debate
Like any good debate, this topic really seems to polarize people. There is very little middle ground.
According to C&R Research, here is a breakdown of the percentage of kids that have their own cell phones:
- 22% of all kids between the ages of 6 and 9
- 60% of all kids between 10 and 14
- 84% of teens between 15 and 18
As for our family, the Honeybee and I concluded that we would permit our kids to have their own phone when they reached their 12th birthday — assuming they could pay for it, of course.
We didn’t always think that way. If there was one thing the Honeybee and I never disagreed on it was that our kids would never have their own cell phones.
We didn’t have cell phones when we were kids, dammit, and we survived. Why would it be any different for kids today?
But as our kids got older both our opinions slowly started to change.
I think the biggest reason for our change of opinion was the increased peace of mind we had knowing that our kids could contact us at anytime, no matter where they were.
When we were kids there were payphones everywhere — in businesses large and small, in parks, and on just about every major street corner. No longer. In case you haven’t noticed, the payphone has pretty much gone the way of Rosanne Barr.
Another reason for giving our son a cell phone is that it teaches him the importance of being responsible. We’ve accepted that Matthew is going to make financial missteps as a kid, but we think it is better that he makes those mistakes while he is younger, when the financial ramifications are relatively harmless, rather than sheltering him until he is 18 — or even later — and having him learn those lessons then when the consequences are a lot more serious.
Kids, Bicycles and Cell Phones
One day after giving my son permission to ride his bike into town to get an ice cream cone I began to wonder: after James Starley invented the modern bicycle in 1885, how many parents insisted that their kids wouldn’t be allowed to own one of those new contraptions until they were adults because, dammit, they didn’t have bikes when they were kids! After all, they had to walk to the general store — two miles both ways — and they survived!
And while that isn’t a perfect analogy, I can definitely see similarities regarding how parents saw potential dangers for their kids with the invention of the cell phone and the bicycle. While parents today worry about potentially excessive cell phone bills, unsupervised Internet access, sexting, and texting while driving, I’m sure there were parents in the late 19th Century that had their worries too.
For example, I’m sure they not only fretted over the cost of the bike, but also injuries due to falls, and the fact that their son or daughter could potentially ride miles and miles away from home if they really wanted to — and maybe never even come back.
Scary thoughts to be sure.
The question for us as parents is when, if ever, should we give our kids the freedom and responsibility to try and manage those risks on their own?