There is a time in a parent’s life, sooner or later, when this question arises: “Mom, Dad, will you buy me a cell phone? Everyone in class has one…”
What in the eyes of a child or teenager may seem like a simple and harmless request, to a parent represents a fuse that, if not handled properly, can explode.
Situations like this, in fact, could be a bit thorny for parents: no matter how much it is for their own good, saying “No” to children always generates the strain of not meeting expectations, with the possible consequence of experiencing a clash. Moreover, not giving in to the temptation to act simply because “everyone does it this way” by conforming and fitting in with others requires a lot of energy and determination.
These are decisions that need to be made carefully.
But why is it such a hot button?
But why does the “smartphone” issue generate so much noise? The question does not involve a merely practical aspect of whether or not to buy an extra technological device, but concerns a broader, educational and at times existential issue.
If smartphones were less smart and performed the simple basic functions of an old phone, I believe that no parent – or almost none – would resist such a request.
But therein lies the problem: today’s phones are much more than just phones. The biggest risk we face is losing touch with reality and immersing ourselves in a virtual world that can dull and pollute us. Today having a smartphone is equivalent to landing on the web, and the web by definition explores everything but the here and now. This for a child or adolescent who is growing up, becoming aware of himself and the world around him, could be counterproductive: it could be an obstacle to such exploration, channeling his or her energies into a dimension that has little to do with reality, and could sometimes return a defaced and altered image of things.
Contemplating these risks is not intended to frighten or discourage but merely to be clear about what one is dealing with in order to be able to act in the best way possible.
How to know if it is the right time?
Like all things, there is no right time tout court. Each parent knows their child and acts according to what they think is wisest.
A mom once told me that she would buy her daughter a phone the moment she stopped asking for it. This perspective is interesting and confronts us with another aspect of the issue: many times children and teens have the “itch” to buy that new technology or those fashionable shoes. They seem almost unable to do without them. Also at stake is an inability to handle the novelty. In this case, it is important to give rules, to educate on the use of the tool to avoid being sucked into it. Getting people to calm down and quell the frenzy might be a good way to have a calmer, more balanced approach that allows kids – while yes, still attracted to the new technology – not to be overwhelmed by it.
Also, one should not forget to have a dialogue. Dialogue is always the best tool for getting to know one’s children, their world and their relationship with things. Only by establishing a real relationship with them would we be able to advise and educate them.
These are some pointers for not leaving one’s kids in the lurch. But one thing must be remembered: kids watch what their parents and educators do. Therefore, the first ones to question our use of the phone are us. Only if we have this awareness could we teach our kids something. And let us remember that the way we approach such tools says much more about us than we think.