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Cell phones for children: Good idea in fantasy world
[May 17, 2009]

Cell phones for children: Good idea in fantasy world

May 17, 2009 (American News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- OK, so I thought it would be a really bright idea for my two older children to have cell phones.

After all, that would mean that I could reach them anytime I wanted. If they were roaming the neighborhood playing with friends and I needed them to come home, all I would have to do is text or call. If they were at an extracurricular activity that ended early (or was going to run late) they could simply give me a call and notify me. If they got in trouble (Which, as you can imagine, hardly ever happens. Not.), the phone would be the first thing to go. I would simply take it and hold it hostage until better behavior or completion of hard labor merited its return.

It all seemed very practical. Very logical.

Yeah. It was. In my fantasy world.

What I didn't account for in this little scenario was reality.

What I didn't account for was that a cell phone -- to a child (and let's not kid ourselves, that includes any person still living under the constraints of a parent's roof) is virtually no more than a fancy toy.

After we gave my oldest son his phone, I swear I didn't see his eyes for two months -- until the first time he got the phone taken away. Same with my daughter. Their eyes were permanently glued to the screen of that phone.

I started to have health concerns for them, too. I wonder if there is a version of carpal tunnel syndrome that involves the thumbs. If there is, I hope it is covered by insurance because I'm sure both of them are in the early stages of its development.

Perhaps most of all, I am amazed at how having this extra tool for communication has actually impeded face-to-face communication in our home.

Instead of talking to me, my kids now text me. Take a recent Saturday morning, for example. I was trying to sleep in, but my phone was on the nightstand next to my bed. At 7:15 a.m., the phone buzzed. Silly me, I picked it up.

The message, from my daughter, said: Good morning, mama. I luv u!!! Touched by her sweetness, and too lazy to get out of bed, I texted back: Love u 2.

Then I rolled over, intending to go back to sleep.

The phone buzzed again. This time the message was: Did u sleep good? Dummy me, I replied again. Then, again, attempted to return to my golden slumber.

When the phone buzzed again, I yelled: NO MORE TEXTING! This is just one example of the silly, frivolous abuse of a supposedly utilitarian device. Another is trying to text "please pass the corn" during dinner. Yet another is a text from the back seat of the van, "just drop me off here." These sorts of ridiculous irritations just make me sigh deeply and thank God that we included unlimited texting in our cell phone plan.

But there is a darker side.

We have a policy in our house that kid phones are parental property and may be confiscated and inspected at any time, with no prior notice. We daily read the texts (incoming and outgoing) from both kids' phones.

Mostly it's just benign, kiddie banter.

But occasionally, we'll see something that borders on bad. Like borderline foul language, or mean-spirited talk. We try to nip this in the bud ... whether the originator of the text was our child, or a friend.

Texting today is the equivalent of what "passing notes" was when I was in school. The thing is, texting (like e-mails or instant messages on the Internet) emboldens people, allowing them to write things they would never say, and, likely wouldn't write down on a piece of paper to pass across the aisle in math class.

We've had a number of conversations in our house about the fact that you should never write -- or type -- something that you aren't willing for someone else to read. Because, no doubt, someone will.

And you might not like the fallout.

Tracy Russman is the American News editorial page coordinator. She may be reached at Her telephone number is 605-622-2319.

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