January 15, 2012

Stop buying kids a phone


---- — Listen, I'm not qualified to call you bad parents; I made four parenting mistakes of my own before breakfast this morning (No. 4: "Yes, yes I do think smoking cigarettes will make you look cool to the other fourth-graders").

Tell me why, though, an 11-year-old needs a cellphone? Because your kid's phone is making my kid want a phone, and I don't want to give him one.

I realize that waiting until 11 already puts me on the fringe of society. There are hundreds of thousands of 8-year-olds already texting their hearts away. Still, even at my son's advanced age, I don't understand why the cellphone is a necessity.

Who does he really, really have to call at any hour of the day? He can reach his friends using our home phone any time. If he's at school, he's not supposed to be using a cellphone. That accounts for more than 90 percent of his time.

He can't use a phone during practices or scout meetings or swim lessons. If he's at a friend's house, it's almost certain that his friend's family owns a telephone.

We feed him, so he doesn't need to call for pizza. We rarely let him drive alone, so he doesn't have to worry about calling AAA when he breaks down on a deserted road.

The modern cellphone is an amazing technological achievement, but it doesn't seem like my son is really ready for an advanced form of communication.

Heck, we're still not completely comfortable with him answering the home phone. Sometimes when it rings he'll pick it up and just listen. A simple "hello" would be fine, but often if he says anything at all it's "What?" "Huh?" or "Who is this?"

I'm not against communication in general. I told my son he could have a megaphone. Some stationary and a book of stamps. A carrier pigeon, but only if he cleans up after it.

There are all sorts of reasons for him not to have a cellphone. There are expenses. There's that nagging question of radioactivity. There are more expenses. There's the danger of loss, damage or theft.

He breaks and loses things every day. If he can't keep track of his winter coat, how can I expect him to protect the cellphone he stuck in the coat pocket?

He only wants a cellphone because "everyone" else's parents gave them cellphones. If he doesn't have one he'll stand out, like the kid wearing the bell-bottoms or the lederhosen or the K.C. and the Sunshine Band rock concert T-shirt.

It's the same reason he wants an iPad, an Xbox, a robotic death machine, a pair of laser-guided sneakers, a motorcycle that shoots flames. Sadly, children's self-worth seems to be tied to the number and cost of their electronic devices. A cellphone is a status symbol, much like the top hat and the pet rock were to my generation.

This is where other parents can help me. Don't kid yourself. You're not buying that smartphone so he can call in case of emergencies. It's not so you can surreptitiously track his location via the GPS function. It's not because the instant access to Wikipedia will help him in school. You're buying it because he wants it, and he wants it because his friend has it, and so on.

It's a vicious circle encouraged by your wireless cellphone provider — legalized drug dealers trafficking in air time and free weekend minutes.

I know no one likes to be the bad guy. We're all guilty of wanting to give our children things we couldn't have when we were their age. I ask, though, that you put that cellphone money in a college fund and join me in standing firm.

You can even go one step further, if you're strong enough. Take back the gizmos and gadgets. Take the TV out of their bedroom. Replace the Wii with a Monopoly board. Put a typewriter and a set of Encyclopedia Britannica where the computer used to be. Do they really need electric light? Take away the bulbs and give them a few candles.

Your children will be angry, but they won't hate your forever. Possibly.

Email Steve Ouellette at: