Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Great Debate

As I approach the childbearing age – well, to put it truthfully, as I approach the age in which I am willing to bear children – I’ve started thinking more about how kids are raised, and how I want to approach parenting my own (future) children. Most recently, I’ve been thinking about cell phones.

This is apparently a hot topic. I Googled “kids and cell phones debate” and was returned with 5.5 million hits. Really? It’s that controversial. But I suppose it’s enough of a hot topic that I’m thinking about it, too, and I don’t even have a kid to protect. Or not. It’s all in how you look at it.

To be honest, I hate cell phones just a little bit. I frequently forget to charge mine and curse the fact that I have it, because it so often becomes just a dead little brick in my purse. As a college student, of course, I loved it. I could call people all over the country for no extra cost to me, and I could text people in the middle of class when the lecture got boring and repetitive. After I found my love and got a full-time job, though, my cell phone became a little less useful. (Pair this with the fact that I really want an iPhone, and you begin to understand the conundrum that is me.)

But kids with cell phones… This is a whole different story. And thus the debate begins:

1. You will know that your child always has some way to call you if they’re in trouble.
2. Cell phones can be located via GPS (if you get some fancy equipment), so if your child is lost, you can track them through the device you’ve installed in their phone.
3. If there’s a last-minute change in their plans, they want to ask you an important question, or they just miss you, they can call from wherever they are.

1. The cell phone will undoubtedly become their way to call all their friends and run up the minutes to an ungodly amount that wreaks financial havoc on your family and eventually results in a fight between you and your spouse so ugly that you consider divorce.
2. Cell phones can be thrown out a window, dropped in a toilet, used as ammo for a slingshot, stepped on, spilled on, thrown in anger, and generally destroyed in all the typical ways children’s toys become that sharp, broken thing you step on in the middle of the night.
3. If there’s a last-minute change in their plans (we’re going to the Marble Slab instead of the ColdStone, okay?), they want to ask you an important question (Mom, what’s 2 times 7?), or they just miss you (Mom, whatcha doin? Who ya doin it with? Why ya doin it? Am I bothering you???), they can call from wherever they are.
4. Cell phones can be traced, but they’re also the first thing a kidnapper would think to take away from a kid.

To me, the cons outweigh the pros. I remember being a kid without a cell phone – I didn’t get my first one until senior year of high school – and only on the pretense that it would be how I would contact my parents from college. But as a young child, I remember the drill – Don’t stay out after dark, always keep a quarter in your pocket to make a call from a payphone, never talk to strangers, don’t cross major streets, and check in with Mom every now and then to let her know you’re still kickin. It was a pretty easy life, and we lived in a fairly safe neighborhood. That’s not to say that kids didn’t get abducted, killed, and hurt in various ways in our town. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, my mom was a little more cautious for a while. We played in the backyard instead of the front. Soon, however, we would migrate back out into the world and life would go back to normal. No amount of cell phones clattering down from the trees I climbed would have made me any safer than I already was.

Kids have to be kids for a while. Giving them cell phones is like handing over a three-piece suit and telling them to wear it to school. Yeah, it might seem nice, but ultimately, they’re just going to be that douche kid in a three-piece suit. Okay – so cell phones have more allure than that three-piece suite, but I think ultimately it’s the same idea. I don’t want to have a 7-year old who can pick up his cell phone and call his 8-year old buddy down the street on his cell phone to see if he can play. I want my little boy to be running down the street, flailing arms, with his mother behind him yelling that, for the love of God, he HAS to start putting on shoes before he goes outside!

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