My phone is no longer mine. Has this happened to anyone else? Perhaps this is how my own mother felt when she picked up the wall-mounted phone with the cord that could reach any room in the house, only to hear my voice chatting away with a friend. Remember those days? When we all shared one home phone? As a child, I would frequently visit a friend whose mother lived on her phone. I would wait and wait to make a call to my parents to ask for a ride home. These days, as a ten-year-old, I would probably have my own cell phone. I would text my mom and Uber home. Sadly, even though I am now a woman who is far closer to 40 than to 30, I am still waiting to use the phone.
This phenomenon of gradual takeover is not limited to my phone, and I am convinced that it is not limited to me. Quick poll – how many of you have lost one of the following to your child…or pet…or partner (comment on the post below):
- Bathroom privacy
- Kitchen (now in near-fulltime use by one of your children intent on becoming a sous chef by age 10)
- Bedroom privacy
- Hidden candy stash (surely I am not the only one with this, right? Help a girl out here!)
But until recently, my phone was sacrosanct. My island in a sea of concessions. The home of my Instagram account, my text messages, and my contacts. My husband and I are Gen Xers floundering our way through a world filled with TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter (we have accounts on none of these). We adore our screens and simultaneously despise them. They allow us to reach the world, but they also allow the world to reach us. We have tried to comb through as much of the latest parenting advice and pediatric research available on the use of screens by young children. After these sessions, we leave convinced that children both need their own phone and should never be allowed to use their own phone. Definitely not in their bedroom, not without filters, not after 10 pm, not unsupervised, not with anyone we do not know. And yet, having a phone builds independence, resilience, and technological savvy. Our heads spin.
Grasping at any kind of number, we settled on age 13 as a good age to bestow these technological wonders upon our progeny. I know – gasp! – how could they possibly wait that long?! What kind of parents ARE they? This post is not intended to be an essay on the benefits of “waiting till 8” (as in eighth grade) or any other program for managing children’s screen time. I tell you this number only to explain that none of our children have a phone because none of them are 13…yet. However, the age restriction has not stopped them from using my phone ALL. THE. TIME.
It began with daily SportsCenter checks, courtesy of our oldest. It followed with text messages and phone calls from the friends of our two oldest children. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The world changed, and so did my phone. While on lockdown, my phone acquired Zoom, Duo, Meet, Marco Polo, and countless other apps that allowed my children to connect with their friends. All of our family, my husband and I included, were longing for meaningful connections with friends. So, I arranged Zoom meetings for my kids, then my phone began to disappear for hours as they shared Marco Polo videos back and forth with their friends. Just last week, a FaceTime call came through on my phone. I was excited. Then I answered. “Hello, Mrs. Morris, we wanted to FaceTime [(our son)] while we all played Fortnite.” Sigh.
Even though my teeth grind and I am frequently exasperated because my phone has “walked off” again, my heart is ultimately full. My kids and I are sharing. We are learning to co-exist, to set boundaries, and to think of each other first. Because of my phone, I am involved in my kids’ lives. I know their friends and their habits, their favorite apps and which photos they have taken. Sharing my phone may be difficult, but it is rewarding; it builds another layer of connection between us.
Tomorrow, when my notifications pop up with yet another Polo from “sisters4ever,” my heart will smile as I hand my phone to my pre-teen daughter. I am sharing the phone with my family, 2020 style.