For those of you too young to remember, phones used to be stationary items, positioned atop hallway side tables or attached to the kitchen wall. When you picked up the receiver, you were tethered to the phone’s permanent location by a loop-de-loop cord, which if you were lucky enough, stretched all the way to the bathroom so that you could answer your fifth grade boyfriend’s quiz questions about how much you like him in private.
Then came the cordless, quickly followed by the cell phone. Oh, the freedom of being able to have one’s most intimate conversations in spaces that did not smell like Head and Shoulders and stale farts.
Of course, cell phones have been ubiquitous for a long time now, an ingrained a part of the landscape for kids today. This current generation texts so much, some biologists predict it just might speed up the evolutionary progress of the human species as the children today’s teens will someday bear will likely be born with tapered thumbs that end in a fine, text-friendly point.
And at the risk sounding like the crotchety old woman I secretly am, I’m going to suggest that some kids are being given phones way too young. Take the sexting phenomenon, for example. If you give your kid a phone, and their first instinct is to stick it down their pants and snap a photo of their junk, maybe it means they’re not ready for the family plan. I’m just saying.
Popular parental wisdom says that cell phones allow kids be more independent. How many times have we heard some mother justify the fact that she gave her fourth grader a cell phone because it allows little Billy to “have more freedom” knowing that if she accidentally forgets to pick him up from baseball practice, mom and dad are only a phone call away. Not only is Little Billy safe, we’ve saved the poor child from the inconvenience of having to figure out how to solve the problem all by himself.
But my real worry about cell phones and the codependence they foster applies less to fourth-graders than it does to the teens these kids eventually become. I see them in Target using their Blackberries to take pictures of boots because they really need mom to take a look and help them decide. I’ve heard stories from multiple friends who just one week ago sent their kids off to college and have already received dozens of texts.
But who can blame these cell phone kids for reaching out so often when they always have their parents right there with them in their back pocket, accompanying them to every date and every soccer practice and keg party ever since the moment they shoved their first phone into their jeans, back in fourth grade. And why should these kids bother to make a decision on their own, or learn to find their own way when they’re lost, when they know mom and dad are always just a phone call away?
A note to my teen readers: Separating from one’s parents is never easy. Believe me, I didn’t pay my own car insurance (or even know such a thing existed) until the ripe old age of 26. But unless your idea of a bright future includes living on the futon in your parents basement, it’s an important developmental milestone. And part of that milestone means learning to navigate the world without your parents help.
Of course, when it’s time for my own son to head off to college, I have no doubt I’ll be a pathetic, sniveling mess, living and dying by the number of times a week I hear from him. And yet, I want him to leave the nest (someday, when he’s older than 7). I want him to leave our house boldly and willingly and to go out into the world and forge a good life for himself. And as hard as it will be for us to separate when that time comes, cutting the cord is the only way we are ever set free to live an independent life. Cutting the cord from our telephones gave us the freedom to talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time. But sometimes, the most important cords to cut are the invisible ones.