Help — my 12-year-old son wants a cellphone
My son wants a cellphone. He’s 12. How did I get here so fast?
I was 20 years old when I got my first cellphone. Until then, I was getting by just fine with prepaid public telephone cards.
All my friends had cellphones (this was around 1999) and I was, as usual, the last holdout. Finally, my dad handed me a device roughly the size and weight of a brick. “What’s this?” I asked suspiciously. “Just take it. No one else will call you. I need to be able to get hold of you,” he said.
I took it. And in that moment, my fate was sealed. Not only my fate to be the butt of all jokes (“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a radio tower! No, it’s just Uzma’s cellphone.”) — I mean my fate to join, kicking and screaming, the wonderful world of technology.
Now Mustafa wants a cellphone to listen to music, play games, text friends and subscribe to Minecraft YouTube channels. Many of his friends are on social media, chatting on Google Hangouts and Instagram.
My slide into techno-addict was slow. After the brick-phone (it was multipurpose — a phone, paper weight and source of radiation that could maybe possibly turn me into a superhero), I graduated to the classic Nokia phone and then, eventually, my first smartphone.
Before the smartphone entered my life, I could walk downstairs without suffering a panic attack if I left my mini-computer in my bedroom and what if someone texted/emailed/ tweeted/Facebooked me while I was in the kitchen?
Now my attention span has shortened, my shoulders ache from looking down at a small screen and I’ll be in reading glasses prematurely.
Once Mustafa dips his toe into this world, he’ll take another step away from me, from his childhood, from playing outside and hanging out IRL (in real life) with friends.
So, I ask my 19-year-old cousin, Ibrahim Ali, about his thoughts. I’m an immigrant to this tech and social media world; he was born there.
When did you first get your phone? I got my first phone in Grade 6, an LG Xenon, which was basically the coolest thing possible. When I got my first iPhone, it was kind of life changing.
The feeling of always being part of the group, to always have someone to talk to, was a massive confidence booster. When should Mustafa get a phone? When the majority of his friends have one.
It’s literally the greatest tool of the modern era because of its social capability.
Everyone will eventually be a part of an online social group, or risk being (an) outcast.
I believe the reason I can interact with others in real life in a way that creates a new friend out of a stranger, or use appropriate words in a professional conversation, or adapt to any conversation, tone or topic, is because of the lessons learned from WhatsApp conversations, Facebook and Instagram.
Mobile devices, if used sensibly, are the most powerful tool of this era. Any other tips?
You’re the master of your phone, not the other way around.
Your phone is yours, not your friends’ toy.
Phones are expensive, so take care. People will try to take your phone. Keep it in your pocket.
If you feel uncomfortable giving your phone to your parents, that’s the same for everybody. Make sure you’re not abusing your parents’ trust.
If you have a moment where you feel as though your phone is doing you harm, talk to someone. It’s easy to say, ‘Go to your parents,’ but you can also talk to a good friend or your teacher. There are social apps like Yik Yak, where you can post anonymously and there are good people willing to help or let you vent.
My cousin’s advice makes me feel a bit better, but Mustafa still doesn’t get a new phone. However, I do give him my old one, on a restricted profile, to practise good cellphone etiquette. It’s returned at night and he only uses it on the weekend or to listen to music while completing homework or chores.
I’m strapping myself in for the years ahead. Change is coming, like a single-use brick-phone thrown through the window of our lives. Good thing I have a few superpowers up my sleeve, and family I can text for back up. Uzma Jalaluddin is a high school teacher in the York Region. She writes about parenting and other life adventures. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uzma Jalaluddin says she was 20 years old when she got her first gadget, but her son wants one now.