My oldest child begins middle school this week, and his pleas for more technology have reached crescendo levels. He'd like Instagram on his iPod, and he frequently wants to check YouTube on my laptop "real quick". Many of his peers have received cell phones for sixth grade, and he'd like to know when he might enjoy this rite of passage too.
Parents with older children tell me that a simple flip phone (if not a full-blown smart phone) is an essential part of the middle school years. It allows them to stay in contact with parents, and it's even a way to stay connected with peers. "Kids kind of miss the boat if they don't have a phone number to pass out to friends those first few weeks of middle school," one parent told me just last week.
Now that we've had summer to mull it over, I don't see the point of getting him a phone just yet. Let's skip past the idea of an expensive piece of equipment in his pocket, or in any 11-year-old boy's for that matter. Judging by how things went this summer, there wasn't one time when he was deserted and needed to call me.
How did we survive without cell phones at the same age? When I'd take off to be with my friends, ride my bike to the store or detour to the community pool, I'd call home from my friend's house, or I'd run home first to clear it with my mom.
So a simple flip phone defeats what most kids really want today. They want apps. They want to play Clash of the Clans or check a video on YouTube "real quick". They want to text, not talk on the phone.
"That's so old-fashioned," my son said when I recently told him to call his friend instead of asking me to email the mom.
The average teen sends hundreds of texts a day now, but many parents of teens have told me that when their kids get together with friends in person, "It's awkward; they don't talk. They're all just checking their phones."
I talked with my cousin at a family reunion in Michigan this summer about how she monitors the phone usage of her high school girls and college-aged son. "I don't," she said. "You can't."
That sealed the deal: I am not ready to surrender to this just yet.
Technology isn't going anywhere and, for better or worse, it will continue to permeate our world. The ultimate reason I am prudent with it in our home is because I see that it affects what is the most important, cerebral pastime for kids and adults alike: reading for pleasure. Why reach for a book when there are a dozen bells and whistles pinging every minute?
A personal hero of mine, author Kelly Corrigan, recently gave a speech at TED talks, an annual conference for discussing ideas worth spreading. Her talk was on the importance of reading more. "Read personal narrative, read poetry, read op-ed, read Doris Kearns Goodwin and Louisa May Alcott and Captain Underpants," she said.
She echoed what I fervently believe: everyone is a reader if you find the right book.
Without once discussing the impact of technology, these were Corrigan's key points, and she explained how being a reader for pleasure combats them all:
- 33 percent of high school graduates never read a book after graduation.
- After college, the number goes to 42 percent.
- When the state of Arizona forecasts how many beds they need for their prisons, they look to the number of kids in fourth grade who read well.
- The number one cause of divorce is poor communication.
- The number one predictor of occupational success is vocabulary.
One of my favorite movie quotes ever comes to mind. It was when Matt Damon's rough-around-the-edges, but brilliant, character in Good Will Hunting
said to the snobby, elitist college kid, "You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late charges at the public library."
Julie Samrick is a stay-at-home mom of four young kids and the founder of Kid Focused, a site devoted to children and family issues. Subscribe to the free Kid Focused newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox and connect with us on Facebook too. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.