I was shocked today to see a news story about a mom who gave her son a new phone for Christmas but did so along with an 18-point “contract” about how he’ll be allowed to use it.
Much of the commentary on the Internet and the radio ranged from “what a fabulous idea” to “that’s a little extreme” and I was perplexed. It makes complete and utter sense to me that parents should give their children rules about how they are allowed to use their technology.
I didn’t have a cell phone until grade 12, and even then it was really my mum’s cell phone. When I went out with friends she had me take it – mainly so that if I got stuck somewhere, needed a ride home, or my friends & I got into any sort of trouble, I could call her. About 5 of my friends had their own cell phones, but I was perfectly happy sharing one with family. And it wasn’t until November of my first year of university (across an ocean from my mum and my home town) that I purchased my own phone. I was always responsible for the bill myself.
These phones didn’t have any of the capabilities of the phones kids use today. I remember the flip phone with the antenna that my mum and I shared in my grade 12 year, purchased for a road trip we took the summer after I finished grade 9. Before making a call I would pull the antenna up, and type in the numbers on the two-tone greenish screen. I honestly don’t remember if it had the ability to text. It certainly didn’t take pictures.
Similarly I remember the first time I went “online” and vividly remember setting up our family’s first computer. I find it fascinating that my (future) children won’t have these memories for themselves. But I’m adamant that they will have similar memories of endless conversations and negotiations about setting up their first email address, about being allowed to use an instant messaging service. (I missed the ICQ phase, but successfully negotiated signing up for and intalling MSN).
The private communication devices that are so ubiquitous amongst teenagers and even children are something that I can’t quite wrap my head around yet. For me the experience of using the phone to talk to my friends as a teenager is wrapped up in sitting under the phone counter in the kitchen. The Christmas I got a GameBoy Colour and Pokémon Blue, I spent most of the morning in this position on the phone to my best friend who’d received the same gaming system (and Pokémon Red), while my family started the preparation for that evening’s dinner.
I remember when we got a longer phone cord and I could glean a bit more privacy by sitting around the corner from the kitchen on the steps to the computer room, my knees still easily seen by mum if she was at the stove in the kitchen, my side of the conversation even more easily overheard, my friendships quite open and known to my mother.
I still remember many of my elementary and high school friends’ home phone numbers. I remember dialing and having to ask to speak to them. Are they home? Can they come to the phone right now? This is all part of the memory and ritual of high school phone conversations for me. Or maybe its just nostalgia.
While the conversations and friendships of kids and teens haven’t changed much from when I grew up, the way they communicate within their friendships and relationships have changed quite a bit, and I’m sure they will change even more by the time I’m a parent myself. But I think it is something that we should think on a bit further. By no means is this a post saying children shouldn’t be allowed access to communications technology, the world is rapidly changing and denying them access to the skills they can gain is not the right way to deal with this change. But the age at which children should be allowed independence and privacy with their tech is something that should be negotiated within the family. The news story that prompted this is one that should not be a news story, it should be standard procedure.
Thoughts? When did you get your first cell phone? How did phone calls go in your household?