Cell phones weren’t available to the public when I was a kid. If we wanted to communicate with our friends, we had a few options: walk or bike over to their house and actually talk in person, pass notes in school (the more intricately folded, the better) or call them on a telephone (a.k.a “landline”). We didn’t have a touch-tone phone until I was in fifth grade. Until then we had a rotary phones in fashionable avocado green and goldenrod to coordinate with our decor. For those of you who are too young to remember such an archaic device, here’s how to use a rotary phone:
- Pick up the receiver (that’s the thing you hold to your head to talk and listen.)
- Insert your index finger into the little hole that corresponds to the number you want to dial.
- With finger still in hole, slide dial around to the right until you reach the little metal stop.
- Remove finger and allow dial to return to its normal position.
- Repeat this process until all numbers have been dialed. If you make a mistake, hang up and start over. If the phone number you are dialing has lots of zeros and nines, then it sucks to be you.
- I won’t even get into the intricacies of the curled up cord that kept you tethered to the phone base.
When I was in middle school, I finally got my parents to agree to let me have a phone in my bedroom! But I was never as cool as some of my bougie friends who had a “teen line” of their own. No. I had to share our family’s line and hope no one picked up and listened to my conversation or needed me to hang up so they could use the phone or receive a call.
It wasn’t until I was out of college that I had my first cell phone. Texting wasn’t a thing until about ten years later, and then you had to us the number key pad with the corresponding letters below each number. So 444*55566688833*99966688 translated into, “I love you.” Jeez.
So fast forward to present day. First Born Male Child has been begging for a cell phone of his own for a couple years. “But all of my friends have them!” Okay. Maybe not all, but quite a few even as early as 3rd and 4th grade!
“What exactly do you think you’d be doing with a phone, First Born? Who is it that you desperately need to be in communication with? What are the occasions you have in life that would require you to have one?”
“I don’t know! But I’m sure I’d find some! You guys are so mean!”
Yes. Yes we are. Now I get it that for some families it’s necessary, for those with kids in multiple extra-curricular activities or kids of divorced parents etc. But for First Born, there really hasn’t been much need.
But last week the Warden and I finally bit the bullet and got a smartphone for First Born Male Child. We were reluctant to do it, but with him starting middle school in the fall, it seemed to be time. He is starting to be involved in more activities where he gets dropped off and picked up. And honestly, we didn’t want him to start being socially ostracized for not having one so he could communicate with his friends when not in school. (I know. First world problems.)
Our hesitation was multi-fold: Was he ready for the responsibility that came with having his own phone? Could we be confident he wouldn’t likely lose or break it? Most importantly, was he able to use it in a responsible and safe manner in this crazy digital age? That last one keeps us up at night. (Well maybe just me, because the Warden falls asleep the minute his head hits the pillow and is out cold for the night. But that’s a whole blog post of its own for another day.)
After a lot of discussion, we came up with a contract between First Born and us to clearly outline expectations for proper use of the new smartphone. It includes the hours he may use it, which types of apps can be installed, how it will be monitored by us and the consequences of improper usage, as well as our expectations we have of his overall behavior that allows him the privilege of having his own cell phone. (I’ve included a link for a PDF version of our contract in case you want to check it out or even use it for your kids.)
I am sure those of you with legal backgrounds are cringing at the gaping loopholes and poor legal syntax it contains, but it’s a starting point and something we can refer him to when he pushes his luck with proper use. “Oh. You think Mom and Dad are snooping in your business too much? Please refer to point number five. Sorry. You signed it pal.”
As much joy as it often gives me to stifle First Born’s fun in life, our main goal in developing a contract was to keep him safe and to teach him responsibility and consequences.
I’m sure he’ll find plenty of ways to work around and push the limits of the contract, and knowing him, he’ll even seek legal advice to prove his point. Just remember this, lawyers: he’s still paying off a toilet and is broke, so unless you’re looking for some pro bono work, I’d advise you to tell him to pound sand if he asks for your expertise.