A dose of Dan: Welcome to the family mobile phone wars

By From page A5 | March 20, 2013

Want to become unpopular in a hurry with your middle school children? Tell them they can’t have a mobile phone when many of their friends are running around with the devices.

It’s a struggle my wife and I are managing at home these days. We’re sticking to our guns, and the boys, ages 12 and 10, recognize their lobbying efforts aren’t going to result in anything other than marginal disappointment. Yet, we’re amazed at how many of their friends have mobile phones — and full-featured smart phones at that.

It seems we receive a daily report on which kids at school are now sporting new smart phones, some the latest iPhone 5 even. Keep in mind consumer reports indicate that the average age for a child to receive a mobile phone in America these days is 11.6 years old.

I can see scenarios (parent work schedules, single parents, carpooling, etc.) where it may be more convenient for a pre-teen to own a mobile phone, but I can’t imagine why a middle school student needs a smart phone. Or are we now thinking that Siri, the slick iPhone voice command function, can be an effective tutor?

It’s certainly been an interesting study in human behavior watching the boys’ friends interact with their new smart phones. Some can’t seem to pull their nose from the device. The experience for them is more about the applications, primarily the games, than actually using the phone as communications device.

And others have socially matured more quickly and leverage the device for connecting, mostly via the texting function. My 12-year-old recently had a few friends spend the night, and one of the boys who is in sixth grade with him was texting the next morning when we were eating breakfast at 7:30 in the morning. When I mostly jokingly asked him who he was texting so early in the morning, the other boys replied in unison, “His girlfriend!”

Turns out our son’s friend, who is a fine young man from a good family we know well, was texting a girl they all go to school with. And I had to give them some grief and let them know that texting is the easy way out and impersonal way to communicate with someone — especially someone that you want to develop a connection with.

I pulled the old man card and ranted on a tale about how we had to use the family telephone to call a girl. Not only did we have to muster up the courage to make the call in the first place, but then we had to stand steady for the inevitable moment when one of her parents would answer the phone. Still, the pressure didn’t back down from there, because we all knew the next question that was coming when they did answer: “WHO IS THIS?”

So, as I explained to the boys over pancakes to the lads, calling a girl 30-plus years ago was a big deal that took some guts. Texting today is a free pass. The parents of neither child generally know they’re even doing it or what they’re texting about. It’s communication that escapes parental radar.

And that’s communication we aren’t interested in having happen, not at this stage of the boys’ lives. We’re all for having the boys develop at their own pace without excessive intrusion on our part, but we don’t want to speed things up. The digital world is going to sink its hooks into them soon enough.

We’ll hold out for a few more years and see if it makes sense to equip them with mobile phones of the regular variety in high school — even if it means we have to endure being unpopular. We’re confident it won’t be the last time.

Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.

Dan Francisco


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