Survey says: My kids don't get cellphones

My beautiful, pious, 12-year-old daughter, Olivia, generally reads my blogs. And while I’m not certain of her motivation for doing this, I would guess that it’s a mixture of two things: being proud of her dad and checking to see if I said anything about her. (I would guess it’s probably more of the latter.) But I’d be fine if she never sets her eyes on this one, because I don’t want her to try to use the following numbers against her mother and me.

Sifting through the news yesterday, I stumbled upon a survey that, even still, I cannot believe. The website surveyed 2,290 U.S. parents who have at least one child between the ages of 11 and 16 regarding their children’s access to (and usage of) technology. Apparently, according to the survey, 53 percent of 6-year-olds are running around with cellphones. Seriously, 6-year-olds. The survey question read: “At what age did your child have their first cellphone?” and those conducting the poll concluded that the average age was 6.

My daughter would argue that this is an injustice that will not stand. So would my 6-year-old.

Do more than half of my kindergartner’s classmates day trade stocks during recess? Is there a large sector of society that has made a 6-year-old its emergency contact? What 6-year-old needs his or her own phone?

When asked, “What made you decide to get your child their first cellphone?” the most frequent answer (31 percent of respondents) was for “security reasons, so my child could always contact me,” followed by “to keep in touch with friends and family” (25 percent). The honest ones — only 20 percent — responded they bought the cellphone so their child could “keep up with their friends at school.”

The survey went on to say that 96 percent of the respondents’ children (ages 11-16) had cellphones, and that when you totaled up the value of all the technology that belonged exclusively to that child, it came out to $462 per kid.

This brings me back to Olivia, who has been lobbying (though not aggressively, because she is so sweet) for a cellphone. In our informal survey (we asked Olivia), half of all sixth-graders in my daughter’s class have phones, though the respondent suggested that number ought to be higher.

This reoccurring discussion came about again the other day when my beautiful, devout wife and I climbed out of the 1990s and got our first smartphones. (One of us is obsessed with our new toy; the other one is Erin, who can’t seem to figure out how to answer when I call — or so she claims — and makes Olivia send all of her text messages.) Because of a minor defect, the manufacturer replaced my first new smartphone and asked that I send the slightly broken one back, so for a time, there was a mostly working spare sitting on the counter. The fact that there were three phones in the house, of course, piqued Olivia’s interest. She inquired about the possibility of her taking possession of the third phone. She took the bad news well.

But here’s the thing: She doesn’t need a cellphone. Certainly, some of her classmates do — those who are latchkey kids, as I was at that age, for example. She has an iPod (which she bought herself — used off of eBay) for games and for messaging her friends, as well as taking an endless amount of selfies and loudly playing Taylor Swift songs in her room. And we still have a landline, as we are not fully participating in current times, for when she needs to make a call, which is almost never. Because “who calls people on the phone anymore?” she says with a verbal rolling of her eyes.

According to a post on entitled “Is your child ready for a cellphone?” Dr. Lori Evans, director of training in psychology at the NYU Child Study Center, says parents need to think about whether a child actually needs a phone or whether they just want a phone. “Children really only need phones if they’re traveling alone from place to place.”

Sorry, Olivia, but riding your bike around the neighborhood doesn’t count.

There will come a time when she gets a cellphone. Our standard answer is: “When you start driving” paired with “when you can pay for it yourself.”

Meanwhile, it’s nice to have somebody to do her mother’s texting.

Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.