Dee got her first cell phone at age ten. A milestone year (and an indulged one), the birthday of her first decade brought a horse, pierced ears, and a flip phone.
It was earlier than we had wanted, and I’m pretty sure she was among the first of ten-year-olds-we-knew to have a mobile phone. But it went with the horse, another accoutrement like the saddle and reins. The phone was essential to keeping in contact with Dee while she went on long trail rides, alone or with friends.
Not that we expected anything bad to happen to her and her one-ton animal, but in the event she needed help or even to alert us that her ride was meandering longer and further than expected, we could be reached. She almost always called us on her rides, mostly to check in. One fall day she left her hoodie on a bush near the river and went back to find it. That day she took twice as long as expected on her ride, which would have had us worried sick had she not called.
This morning I was pondering the question, How young is too young? Dee’s sister got her first phone for her tenth birthday this spring. The excuse this round wasn’t equestrian safety but rather, precedent.
Em is among the first of her friends to have a cell phone, and among her friends’ parents I am about the only one who thinks having a phone is a good thing. But I’m also in a unique position in that I travel, a lot, and the cell phone has become a way for me to stay connected to my littlest babe.
This morning, Vietnam time, after calling home to say good-night to my family (it was about 7:30p their time and they were on their way home, oddly enough, from picking up Vietnamese take-out for dinner) I continued for about two hours to receive text messages from Em. She always misses me most at nighttime, so as it got later for her, I got more frequent text messages.
The messages arrived in my email inbox—my cell phone service doesn’t work in Vietnam—and always with Em’s little abbreviations, misspellings, and emoticons. She told me what she and her sister and dad were up to (a carwash after dinner), what Sony the pug was up to (missing me), and when she was ready for bed. Then when she crawled under the covers she sent this:
I'm going to bed now I luv u I miss u
These past few days, Em has sent me all sorts of text messages, along with photos she takes to show me what she’s been doing. She sent me a drawing of a girl who looks like her (no, not a self-portrait), a photo of Em yawning, a shot of Sony sticking out her tongue, and just a bit ago an image with these words on the Subject line:
The garden is growing.
I work in in the Tech industry and maybe for that reason I see technology as a positive. Dee is almost 14 now and on her third phone (all changes due to my switching service providers). Her latest is an iPhone with unlimited data and texting. She’s also had a MacBook since two Christmases ago.
As is common for kids of her generation, she’s comfortable with technology and figures out how to download and use “apps” way before I can. She learned how to manipulate photos taken with her iPhone into entirely new and bizarre creations. Thanks to that and a fascination with making mini-films on her MacBook, she recently spent her own money on her first digital camera.
There are, of course, huge risks for kids and technology. There are concerns about long-term health effects, especially brain cancer from the radio-frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones on developing brain tissues of children. There are worries that kids are spending more time with their gadgets than with real friends. I fret about sexual predators and their access to my daughters via cell phones and email. (Neither of my girls has asked for Facebook or My Space accounts, and I thank their schools for instilling a cautious attitude around social media networks.)
But the risks can be mitigated by talking with your kid and setting guidelines around usage. And you’ve got to ask yourself, at what age do the pros become greater than the cons?
For me, ten-years-old is that tipping point. Tonight I can’t get an international phone line out of Saigon to make a call, but I have sent about a dozen text messages back and forth to home. And even though I didn’t get real voices on the other end of the line wishing me sweet dreams, I’m going to bed with a virtual kiss good-night.