Help — my 12-year-old son wants a cell­phone

Toronto Star - - LIFE - Uzma Jalalud­din

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 ujalalud­din@out­


Uzma Jalalud­din says she was 20 years old when she got her first gad­get, but her son wants one now.

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