What denying your 10-year-old a cell phone can teach you about parenting

On what grounds am I really saying no?

 |  4-minute read |   15-02-2017
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It's a common conundrum in most households with children. All over the world. The minute you have a child over 6 or 7, the question inevitably pops its head up.

"When can I get my own cell phone?"

And then, it doesn't go away. Not until you "succumb" or find your child a distraction.

And if you have a pre-teen, the need to chat exclusively, to get access to WhatsApp is greater, every whine and every complaint and every sulk relating to only the elusive cell phone, the one that every classmate of hers has, even juniors, but the one her cruel parents won't give her.

cell-phone-addiction_021517055907.jpg I don't quite know any more what 'old enough' is.  Photo: Reuters

I have a 10-and-a-half-year-old and it started a few months ago. Courtesy peer pressure. Courtesy other kids who were coming to birthday parties with a driver and a nanny, from the age of 7, iPhone in tow.

We've "resisted" it all this while, citing the "you'll get one when you're old enough".

Except, I don't quite know any more what "old enough" is. Nephews got it when they were 16, but then that age barrier kept falling rather rapidly.

To make peace, we gave her an email ID instead, and Google chat somewhat compensates for WhatsApp. We've also tried the "but why do you need it", except she comes back with a "you guys are on your phones the entire time; I want my own gadget too".

I've been thinking about it. On what grounds am I really saying no?

Is it because I want to feel like a responsible parent, doing the right thing, not giving my child instant gratification (the source of all modern ills, say counsellors), or just because I have the right to say no as a parent?

So I thought I'll break it up. And I know I'm being the devil's advocate, but, honestly, my arguments against it are not adding up anymore.

  1. Worried about radiation: If that's the case, we shouldn't be using the microwave, heating up anything in plastic, or giving our kids water in a plastic bottle. Hell, forget radiation, the air pollution levels in Delhi/NCR are so bad that radiation is actually a distant worry.
  2. It's too expensive: Then, we shouldn't have bought an iPad or allowed our kids to use it. And I have one, whereas many homes have two, and a Mini, so who are we kidding? Plus, most of the gadgets we let them use, like the TV and the X-Box, all of them cost a lot of money - way more than a phone.
  3. It's distracting: Of course it is, but we can ration their time on it and teach them to use it responsibly, which is a life skill to teach anyway. And, let's face it, we ourselves are distracted by it, and spend a disproportionate amount of our day on it, so how can we expect our kids to behave any differently when all they see is our obsession with this tiny gadget?
  4. Why do they need to chat with friends they've just spent the day with? We all know this logic does not apply. We spend our after-office hours chatting with colleagues we've spent the day with too. Or friends we partied with just last night.
  5. It will limit family conversation: Yes, the same way it does when we spend dinner time forwarding jokes instead of actually spending time chatting with our children.If we're able to put away our phone at crucial family gatherings, so can they. Our kids will chat as much as they want to and need to, with or without a cell phone - if we share a good rapport with them.If we're worried about a cell phone disrupting our relationship with our child, then there's an underlying problem anyway.
  6. They must learn to wait, or earn it: When someone has been asking for something for over a year, it doesn't qualify as instant gratification any more. And yes, if we want them to earn it, sure, we can incentivise it. Or get them to work toward paying half the cost - whatever works.

The point is, just as we don't ask anybody else what age we should take our kids out for Hindi films, or how much junk food we should let them eat, this too is a decision that each family must make for itself.

Every home has a different dynamic and works to a different tune. Arguments about a cell phone shouldn't be the source for cacophony. It's not worth it.

Writer

Geetika Sasan Bhandari Geetika Sasan Bhandari @geetika_sb

The writer is a former deputy editor, India Today Digital.

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