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Do kids need laptops, cell phones, Twitter and Facebook?

Categories: Guilt Inducers, Mommy Angst


My son, 14, wants a cell phone. Preferably with a big shiny touch screen and lots of apps. Like an iPhone or something that runs Google Android. He has awesome taste — gets his appreciation for tech-geekiness from my side of the family.

Cell phone was at the top of his Christmas list, even above “new bed,” which would be a bed long enough for his 6-foot-and-growing frame so that his feet don’t hang over the edge. But he didn’t tell anyone about his list but me, and “cell phone for a kid who NEVER CALLS ANYONE” wasn’t in my budget this year. Plus, he doesn’t live with me. A mere technicality.

Since it’s now been a couple of years since I lived full time with anyone from whom I’d be likely to hear, “But Mooooooom, everybody has one!” I thought I’d do some Extremely Scientific Research about the percentage of 14-year olds who own cell phones. Do kids need cell phones?

Turns out that yes, yes they do. Also they need iPods and laptops, and by extension, Twitter and Facebook. Can’t get by with two tin cans and a string anymore. This is according to the esteemed Wall Street Journal, circa January 2009. Have things changed substantially since then?

The consensus among nearly 200 comments was that yeah, depending on the family’s circumstances, kid’s lifestyle and the convenience factor for parents, kids as early as 6th grade tend to have cell phones. I sort of did a whoaa here. 6th grade, really? My kid’s in 8th grade and life is a lot different by that age compared to 6th grade. He’s been successfully managing a farm on Farmville, for one thing. That’s important life experience. How many 6th graders can say that?

While part of me is pining for my 1970’s past when we used to carry quarters for pay phones or phone home from a friend’s house — where the phone was attached to the wall — I think I get where these WSJ parents are coming from. The times, they are a-changin’. Kids connect now in ways we didn’t at that age. Textspeak is a new language (one that makes me cringe, but maybe after I dust off my walker and get my teeth out of this glass things will be different)(even more cringeworthy than lolspeak, imo) and it’s our kids that are creating the future. Something like that. And it only costs us 60 bucks a month with free texting!

I asked my son what he would do with a cell phone if he had one. Silly question. He ignored me. I can imagine there’s some secret app that only people under 17 know about, and he’s dying to have it. We already IM and Skype every day, he from his laptop and I from mine. I have a bigger Twitter presence than he does, nyah nyah, but he spends more hours joining Facebook fan pages than I do. Logistically, I don’t see him “needing” a cell phone until he’s 16 and working and driving, but I don’t know. His thumbs might atrophy by then.

Do kids need all this new media stuff, in your view, or is it just a bunch of wasted money going to support an already overly-materialistic society? (No, no agenda here, just a struggle to see all sides of the issue.)

P.S. I actually want my kid to have a cell phone and think he should have one. Even though he doesn’t need it. The End.

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10 comments so far...

  • The biggest reason I see kids getting them in 6th grade is they start doing things independently and this is a way for parents to keep tabs on them too.
    My goddaughter was given a cell phone after a snafu with an afterschool activity. It took an hour for her to find anyone who had a phone to call her mom. So she was given a phone so that never happened again.
    I support the family phones, so you’re able to see who they’re calling, who they’re texting and control their features. I kind of see it like the starter credit card I got - it was mine name, bills went to me, but my mother could call up a bill at any time and see if I was paying off the pizzas on time or getting in over my head.

    Mich  |  February 3rd, 2010 at 4:47 pm

  • My jury is out on this. I don’t see anything inherently evil in giving a kid a cell phone, provided the cost isn’t ridiculous. However, not having one would force them to actually use their God-given abilities in real life, like, problem-solve, plan ahead, walk, stick to what they originally promised, humbly apologizing if a poor choice makes them late . . . I know, I’m old fashioned, but I can’t get past the idea that those are good things for kids to practice - the more, the better.

    I know people say that computer games are great simulators of real-life problems, but I am not convinced. Computer games are more like dreams - you wake up and all your troubles magically disappear. I’m for letting kids learn real lessons from real mistakes.

    My kids are 3, so I have some time before I have to come to a final judgment on this matter.

    SKL  |  February 4th, 2010 at 9:21 am

  • It would reassure me to be able to reach my child on a cell-phone when he is at a friend’s house or on the way back from school… or to know he could reach me anytime too.
    However, I believe a cell-phone or internet access is a privilege that can be taken away if overused or abused, and should be presented as such.
    Also, I would install an internet parental control software on the child’s laptop, just to make sure I knew what pages they visit and that they are not seeing anything inappropriate.

    FrenchNad  |  February 6th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

  • I totally agree that kids should have a cell phone. My daughter wanted a cell phone really bad. For her 13th birthday I broke down and bought her one.
    I love it that she has a cell phone. I can reach her anytime that I need to. She is involved in a lot of sports and if I cannot be there I am able to text her to find out how she did.
    I really have piece of mind knowing she is carrying her cell phone everywhere. If anything happened she can call where ever she is. As well it gives the kids a sense of independence. I thInk in todays world kids having the media devices is very important. The world is turning tech!

    Shawna  |  February 7th, 2010 at 4:25 pm

  • I’m torn. Obviously, Amelie is too young to care right now so it’s not something I have to contend with. Yet. But she does walk around with one of our old cell phones, yelling, “HEWWO!!!” into the mouthpiece end a lot…and has turned a Barbie/Skipper plastic, rectangle, surf-down-the-slide thingy into her bathtime “phone”…

    But do kids NEED these things? No. I don’t think so. Facebook and Twitter, they certainly don’t NEED. Laptops are not a necessity. Nor are phones.

    Frankly, adults don’t NEED them either (though we’re more creative about justifying why we think we do need them).

    Gah. I hate the incursion of technology into my life, to be honest. My phone is usually on silent so I don’t feel obligated to answer it and can check at my leisure. And I hate, hate HATE texting.

    But I do think lolspeak is…well…full of lolz.

    Phe  |  February 12th, 2010 at 5:58 am

  • I am a firm believer the kids absolutely need cell phones in today’s day in age. But a cell phone with limits. I bought my son a prepaid cell phone from Wal Mart and it’s on something called the “Straight Talk” plan from TracFone. It’s $30 for 1000 minutes and 1000 texts. This is perfect because I KNOW he won’t get close to those numbers and since it’s a prepaid cell phone, there’s no issue with overage fees. Plus, it’s has great service (on the Verizon Network - America’s most reliable network)

    Fran  |  February 26th, 2010 at 11:31 pm

  • I’d say yes on some, no on others. It depends on the item. Twitter definitely NO, Facebook no, Cell phones, definitely YES, laptops, yes. I terms of the Facebbok, I let my 11 yr old boy get one till he started fighting with his older brother on FB!!! Needless to say all of his brother’s friends knew about the fight so the younger one lost his FB privileges. But i got him a prepaid cell phone and that’s worked out quite well. It’s only $20 a month with TracFone and he gets 150 minutes to call or text. He manages it pretty well, especially since he knows that if he goes over he will not get any more minutes. I think giving this prepaid has taught him about budgeting and management. And quite frankly, I feel that he is safer just because he can reach me at any time and I can reach him.

    yesandnomom  |  July 24th, 2010 at 7:24 pm

  • No matter how much we questions ourselves over and over, we have to admit, it’s the digital age and cellphones are here to stay. There are LOTS of benefit cellphones bring, one is assurance to each and every mother/father that their child is safe and is not in harm’s way. I recently got my 8-year-old son his own mobile phone from Just5 and so far I’m happy with it, it has this great feature at the back, an SOS button that he can press when he is in some kind of emergency and I would know right away. Talk about innovation huh? As simple as that makes me have a peace of mind that my child is safe all the time. You can check it out for yourself:

    Wren Mika Wesley  |  November 15th, 2010 at 10:14 am

  • Personally, I feel children need to use the land line in the kitchen where Mom and Dad are listening. We cannot protect them for the cyberbullying and monitor disrespectful conversations if they are behind closed doors pushing letters on a keypad. Independence is important for our children to learn, but in today’s world how can we instill self confidence, positive self esteem and personal responsibility if we are not part of our children’s lives.

    RCVTR  |  November 26th, 2011 at 9:06 am

  • Personally, I feel children need to use the land line in the kitchen where Mom and Dad are listening. We cannot protect them for the cyberbullying and monitor disrespectful conversations if they are behind closed doors in the room pushing letters on a keypad. Independence is important for our children to learn, but in today’s world how can we instill self confidence, positive self esteem and personal responsibility if we are not part of our children’s lives.

    RCVTR  |  November 26th, 2011 at 9:07 am