“But Dad, everyone has a cellphone!” my 12-year-old son proclaimed when I told him he was not in the general queue to get one. “Who’s everyone?” I said. “All of my friends,” he responded with exasperation, his tone harboring that pre-teen whiff of inequity as he tried to make me feel guilty. “I doubt that,” I said. The truth is, many of his friends do indeed have a phone, and the tide is beginning to shift in his favor.
He’s in sixth grade, and this is his last year of elementary school. While my wife and I want him to enjoy being a kid for one more year, we also want him to become more independent and prepare himself for junior high. And since I’m a huge proponent of practice when it comes to school, sports and other activities, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t extend that bias toward learning how to be more independent.
Currently, his practice consists of biking around the neighborhood by himself even though sidewalks are scarce and the roads are busier than they were when I was a kid. He also walks with friends to get pizza on Thursdays after school. After eating, they meander to Danny’s Place — a cool hangout located in a school administration building. Friday nights he goes to ballroom dance class with another group of buddies. (Which is quite a hoot by the way.) All in all, the more freedom he gets, the more he wants.
This isn’t easy for me. As I loosen the reins my stomach tightens. This snuck up on me before I was ready. And isn’t that how it works for parents? We endeavor to stay one step ahead but always feel one step behind. Instead of leading the charge, I often feel like I’m reacting to the battle.
When I see young kids with fancy phones texting on the sidelines of their siblings’ games I feel like running over, snatching the phone and hurling it into a nearby pond or woods. Then I want to say to their parents, “What are you thinking?” Of course, it’s possible that those parents are a step ahead of me. All three of my kids have asked over the last few years if they could have a phone, and all three have been summarily told they probably shouldn’t bring up the topic again. But now I can see the value of my son having one.
Kids like to improvise, especially without adult supervision. With five kids in a group, four will follow the rules set out by their parents and one will get that look in his eye, that twinkle, that flash of understanding — that there’s no one around to tell him otherwise — and just like that the plan will shift and change.
Page 2 of 2 - Enter the phone. This would be the perfect time for my son to send me a quick text saying, “Dad. We R G4 PZA CUL8R 143.” Translation: “Dad. We are going for pizza. See you later. I love you.” I understand that I have no choice but to give up control and let him engage with the universe, but it does help to know that he’s set up shop at the local pizza joint instead of floating around on some cloud, headed across the Atlantic.
So the tide is turning. He’s lucky. His mom’s on his side. And in general he’s a pretty responsible kid. I don’t think he’d abuse the privilege of having a phone; but he’s a kid, and I know it’s more important for kids to feel included in the group than accountable to their parents. I get it. Or I should say, “I’m down with that.” But all I can say is he better be where he says he is. Because these days I’ve been inexplicably putting on my coat, grabbing my car keys, and taking short rides down main street just for the fun of it. And as I’m cruising, if I just so happen to see my son sitting in the pizza shop where he’s supposed to be, then all the better. Smart boy.
Saelen Ghose is a freelance writer and father of three. He can be reached through his website, www.theguysperspective.com, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.