Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cell Phones for Sixth Graders?

It’s hard to believe that we’re already several weeks into ER’s middle school experience.

To handle the transition to sixth grade, I decided this was the year we were really going to get our act together.  A few weeks before school started, my sister and I waited until Tim was out of town and organized our house to such detail that when he returned, he growled when he couldn't find his nail scissors and said he felt like a house guest.  I pointed sweetly to the organized leather box of nail accessories, undeterred.  I beckoned Tim and ER into the living room so we could create a hang file system with labels for each class. It was a bonding moment. I drank a glass of wine and read the school subjects off of the class schedule while Tim made labels on a label maker. ER helped by doing high kicks and singing like Iggy Azalea.

The Having Our Act Together plan continued. ER went to school before the first day and decorated her 6th grade locker. This a thing now, in case you don’t know.  Gone are the plain Jane lockers of yore.  Now, you can buy mini locker chandeliers and shag locker rugs so your locker can rival a Kardashian bedroom.

We were completely ready for middle school until something dawned on us. Something was missing. Our sixth grader doesn't have a cell phone!

This is a big dilemma. While Tim and I tend to agree on most parenting matters, we’re having a really difficult time getting on the same page about the phone issue.  In my view, I think 11 is too young -- why rush growing up and being constantly connected? What about the mean girl stuff?  Tim doesn't get what all the fuss is about; he's a practical sort. Plus, my stepchildren already set the bar, because when they were in middle school, they came home from their mom’s with cell phones.  At first we thought it was a little excessive, but with after school activities and two households, we couldn't deny the convenience factor.

While we've been considering the options, ER has been playing me like a violin. (Very possibly, Tim is the conductor.) On ER's 10th birthday, we were on our way to dinner when the grandparent calls started ringing. I handed my phone over and said, “Answer it! Mimi’s on the phone!”

“I don’t know what to say!” she said, panicked. “I don’t have a phone!”

I handed her the phone and frowned. Tim offered a belly laugh that lasted just a little too long for my taste.

ER continued gently but consistently working on me. She came home from sleep away camp in June and announced dramatically that she was the only kid in her cabin without a cell phone. I tried tough love.

“Well, you were the only kid without a phone and you survived, and you still had fun at camp, right?” 

“I guess…” she said, throwing her head back and sighing while Tim snickered.

I began asking around. What other sixth graders had phones?  One mom told me her sixth grader didn't have a phone, but a cell phone was a good indicator that the kid had divorced parents. True for my stepchildren, but not for my daughter, so that didn't help much. Another parent admitted that they were considering GPS tracking to ensure their kid was actually in class. Considering the kid in that case, I nodded in sympathy.

For other families like us who canceled their land lines years ago, the decision was based on giving their children phones for emergencies.  Never mind that the definition of “emergency” later morphed into using the phone for clandestine sessions of Super Monkey Ball Bounce; after all, we’re all just figuring it out here. For most of us, this dilemma didn't exist when we were in sixth grade because our parents couldn't afford the gigantic radioactive bricks that were the cell phones of our day.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll cave on this one. The convenience and safety factor seem to outweigh the other issues that we’re already facing with email and modern-day social sixth graders. Mean girl stuff is going to happen whether a phone is part of the deal or not. It’s about open communication no matter what gadget your kid gets. It’s our job as parents to set limits and teach the safety and etiquette that you won't find in the instruction manual.  After all, if this is the year we’re going to get our act together, there’s probably an app for that.

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