The cell phones my husband and I gave our children have turned out to be both a pleasure and a pain to us. While it’s been comforting and convenient to be able to reach our children almost everywhere we or they go, giving them cell phones hasn’t alleviated all of our parenting worries. In fact, the kids’ cell phones have probably given us more to worry about- especially in the last year.
Our descent into cell phone hell began with my mom tricking us into getting our daughter a phone the summer before she entered 6th grade, which was much earlier than we had planned to give her one. My mom convinced us she would make the monthly payments for the phone plan and said she would loan our daughter the phone if she ever needed it for a sleepover. But as soon as we activated the two-year contract, she said she couldn’t see the tiny numbers on the keypad and she backed out of her promise. She said our daughter would get more use out of it anyway, so she gave it to her and refused make any monthly payments. We were trapped, our daughter was hooked, and it’s been a downhill slide since then.
Probably the worst thing about cell phones, especially those with text messaging plans, is the incredible amount of power and secrecy they give our children. When my husband and I were teens, our communication with our peers and love interests took place on a communal phone mounted on the kitchen wall. Privacy was measured by the length of the cord and how far you could stretch it around the corner and into another room, preferably one with a door. Conversations were rarely private and they didn’t last too long, especially if our parents had anything to say about it. Once we hung up, all communication with the outside world ended for the night. Nobody dared to call us back at 2 AM to plot a rendezvous.
But our children (and apparently all of their friends) keep their cell phones with them in their bedrooms and carry on silent conversations well into the night, even on school nights. I’ve seen text messages sent to my kids at all hours of the night. My kids claim they aren’t answering these messages, but still…who can get a good night’s sleep when their cell phone keeps buzzing all night long- and it’s under their pillow?
So what have our children done with these wonderful instruments of communicative technology? Our daughter has used her phone to plan alternative activities, then lie to us about her whereabouts, she has plotted escapes from our house after we’ve gone to bed, and she constantly communicates with people we don’t even know. No worries, right?
In January, our son managed to lose his phone in six inches of new-fallen snow while sledding with a friend on a hilly golf course. He never thought to leave his phone in the car, because God forbid, he might miss the all-important “hey” text message from some goofy buddy or clingy girl. No worries, right?
The tipping point was the morning we discovered our daughter’s loser boyfriend sent her a half dozen text messages from 2 AM onward one Saturday night. We decided on a low-tech solution to our high tech problem- both kids would start leaving their cell phones downstairs every night, before they went to bed. No excuses.
Although our son was okay with it, the whole “leave-the-phone-downstairs” concept didn’t go over very well with our daughter. At first she kept trying to sneak downstairs to retrieve it after we went to bed. I staked out a spot in the darkness just outside her room and caught her red-handed. When that strategy failed her, she decided to get up at 5 AM every morning to get it back in her clutches, then went back to sleep for another hour before waking up again and getting ready for school. Amazing. Every night, she’s still the last one to give up her phone, just so she can hang on to it as long as possible.
For now, we parents have won one small battle in the cell phone wars. I’m sure there will be many more to come. But as long as the kids are living under our roof and we’re paying their cell phone bills, we have the right to confiscate their phones at bedtime- or any other time we think they’re abusing their phone privileges. Even though they can’t see it now, it’s really a win-win situation, because we all get a little more sleep at night.