I Gave My 6-Year-Old A Cell Phone, But Not For The Reason You Think
I try really hard not to judge other moms, but I must admit, there are times when I think, "Oh, boy, there's a helicopter parent," or "I can't believe they bought that for their kid." The problem with making these snap judgments, of course, is that I can't possibly know the circumstances leading up to those parenting choices. I don't know what difficult thing the kid is going through, or if the parents agonized over a decision, only to come to a conclusion that's less than perfect. We can't ever really know what's going on in other parents' heads. And nothing illustrates this better than the fact that I recently bought my 6-year-old a cell phone.
Even typing that makes me feel silly. (I mean, come on — he's 6.) But I should clarify that I did not buy my kid an iPhone so he can wile away the hours playing Minecraft or Tetris or Muffin Knight. I didn't even get him a phone because he was begging for one. In fact, he doesn't think that much about owning a cell phone in the first place. He's so used to having constant access to technology that he doesn't think it's all that cool. I got him a phone because we both have anxiety, and there had been a few instances where his having a cell phone would have saved us both a lot of stress.
My son is in first grade, and his school doesn't require there to be an adult meeting him at the bus stop like they did in kindergarten. Last year, if I was running a bit late, the driver would wait for a minute at the bus stop, or they would presumably drive him back to school where they would call me. But this year, once the bus pulls up, he gets off.
The thought of being alone and not knowing where I was scared him.
I have three kids, including a baby. Getting out the door with my younger two children and up the steep hill to the bus stop is a monumental task. For this reason, I coached my son as best as I could for the potential scenario of him getting off the bus and not immediately seeing me. He knows he's supposed to walk home as usual, and that I likely would be rushing up to meet him. He knows he should let himself into the house. And he knows that if for some reason I'm not there, he should just sit tight because I'd be there soon.
Making these contingency plans and talking through these situations made my son anxious. The thought of being alone and not knowing where I was scared him. And much as I tried to tell him the whole scenario was unlikely, it did eventually happen.
I was out for coffee with my two youngest children after doing preschool pick-up, because I had more than two hours between picking my daughter up from preschool and my son getting off the bus. But that day, I ran into someone I knew and had a lot of trouble extracting myself from the conversation, even when the alarm on my phone went off reminding me I had twenty minutes to get to the bus stop. On my way to the car, my baby had an enormous diaper blowout. (Why do these only seem to happen when you're in a rush?) I wish I had just thrown the baby into his car seat, poop and all, but I thought I could just change him quickly and save myself from having to wash the car seat.
I drove right past his bus going the opposite direction, having just left our bus stop. I knew my son was probably worried. When I got home, I saw he did just as I had told him: he let himself into the house. In fact, when I pulled into my parking spot, I saw him looking out the front door for me. And when I finally did rush into the house, he burst into tears.
As an anxious mom to an anxious son, I'm doing the best I can.
It was an awful feeling. I had caused both of us so much stress. And as much as I tried to put a positive spin on it ("hey, you did exactly what you were supposed to do!" "you were really brave!" "I was only a minute behind you!"), I still had that awful feeling in my gut that comes from causing your kid pain. Some parents might be able to shrug it off and say that things like that toughen your kid up. But my sweet 6-year-old is a lot like me. He's sensitive. He's anxious. And he will sometimes dwell on bad things that have happened. The solution was simple: If he could have called me as he walked home from the bus stop, or if I could have called him the moment I knew I wouldn't make it, we would have been fine. At that moment, I knew I had to get him a cell phone.
The cell phone my son has doesn't even really look like a phone. It's a GizmoPal. It looks like a big plastic watch and it has two buttons. He can do exactly two things with his phone: he can call one of his four contacts, and he can play a fun space sound. And during certain hours, like when he's at school, the phone is on silent. As the parent, I can call him (and I can force him to answer so I can hear what's happening) and I can find his location with GPS. I control his contacts. For the most part, he puts the phone in a small pocket on his backpack and he forgets it's there. But my knowing that it's there saves me from a lot of undue stress.
I have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, so I try not to dwell on all the bad things that might happen. But when I do have fleeting thoughts about violence in school, or my son's school bus in a ditch, or God knows what, I'm glad I have a way to get in touch with my son. I realize that this might sound a little nuts to some parents. I certainly got a lot of funny looks from my mom when I was explaining it to her. But I honestly don't care, because as an anxious mom to an anxious son, I'm doing the best I can. I'm trying to find solutions that put our minds at ease, but aren't totally maladaptive or disruptive. And when I find myself judging other parents for buying their kids cell phones, I'm trying to think of all the unknown reasons they might have for doing so.