I am a terrible mother. There I said it. I am the worst mother in the world. Why would I say that about myself? About a year ago my 8-year-old spoke with gravity and great conviction that he "wanted to be just like his friends."
"How do you want to be just like your friends?"
"Well, all my friends have video games and I don't have any."
Just recently I have heard a long list of reasons why a 9-year-old should have a cell phone.
"Well, you can get a track phone for $10, and well, you know, $20 for the minutes."
"Really? Do you have $30?"
"Will you have the $20 when you use up your minutes?"
A little backstory...
We don't have a TV. When the digital conversion took place a few years ago we had a converter box. We watched PBS kids, The Good Wife, every single, horrible detail of the evening news. Mostly, the signal was choppy because we live at the end of a two-mile dirt road and the signal was not always reliable. When the trees leafed out in the spring our options would be limited to two channels. We looked at all the other options and realized we did not want to pay for television. Rural Internet is just as unreliable. I can be roaming on my cell phone without needing to leave my living room. Buying a new TV was out of our budget. It seemed more prudent to make sure we had firewood than a TV. So we packed ole Bessie up, antenna and all, and packed her away in the attic. Immediately there seemed to be better chi in the house. We had a room that was not focused on a machine which interfered with our other pursuits. If we want to watch a movie we can play one one our laptop. Granted, it is a small screen, but then I realized that while a movie was playing we were knitting, reading, playing with the dog. Screen? What screen?
I also observed that without the distraction of the screen, my son's life was richer. We have a couple of afternoons a week when he can come home right after school. He often will say, "I'm going outside to play for a little while before I do my homework." He sits at his desk in his room and creates critters out of paper and tape. He is awed by the gift of a ream of paper.
I was flipping through pictures on my phone and I noticed quite a few of him reading. Sure, his mom works in a bookstore, reading is an important part of our days, but here is a kid who always has a book. Why would I want anything to interrupt that? If he is not reading, he is writing. Small comic books are found in all corners of our home. No screen has also meant that we are not budgeting for screen time. There are not than many free hours in our days. After work and school take their share, homework and housework demand their fair share as well. It doesn't leave that much time for us to just BE together. The thought of negotiating half hours or hours to a voracious time vacuum seems like a level of complication that our relationship just doesn't need. In the end it became a choice to not have a TV and not just a inconvenience of technology.
So on occasion we have these conversations about those other technologies that everyone else has. I wish it were a simple answer I could give him. But I find myself conflicted at times. Will he fall behind his peers when it comes to technology? I'm not sure that he will. Our county is economically challenged. While we are not depressed, many folks in our community struggle to make ends meet, my family included. Investing in services to our house that might be spotty at best does not make financial sense. The schools include technology in the classroom, when he reaches middle school he will be able to take home a laptop. I have noticed that he has a fair command of most of what a 9-year-old needs to use a computer.
Does a 9-year-old need a cell phone? At this point I am not so sure. In the future it may be a reasonable choice. When I think about the frustration I have with my devices -- low battery, dropped calls, fat finger texting -- I think maybe a 9-year-old doesn't need this level of frustration. And besides, I am not sure he would answer his phone. He's too busy reading a book.