“Nancy, face it. You blew it – you shoulda had a cell phone.”
I got it again today. The ol’ a-cell-phone-in-your-pocket-will-save-your-life-and-make-all-your-worries-go-away stuff. You know the drill – if you have a cell phone nothing bad will ever happen and you should never, ever leave your house without it.
When John and Daryl got in an accident in Albuquerque, the response was, “You shoulda had a cell phone.”
When we got separated down in Argentina, the response was, “You shoulda had a cell phone.”
And today, when I screwed up on my calendar and dropped my boys off for a robotics demonstration that is, in fact, next Saturday, and Davy and Daryl had to sit under a tree for five hours waiting for me to come pick them up, the response was, “You shoulda had a cell phone.”
But here’s the deal: no, I shouldn’t. A cell phone wouldn’t have changed a gosh darn thing in any of those situations. OK, in Albuquerque it would have saved me a couple hours of worry when my husband and son didn’t come home when expected. It wouldn’t have prevented the accident; it wouldn’t have brought help any faster; it wouldn’t have changed anything.
In Argentina, there was no cell phone reception (yes, a car did stop and tried his phone).
And today, I’m quite happy I didn’t drop what I was doing to race back out to pick the boys up. If I had done that, they wouldn’t have learned nearly as much – or maybe I should say what they learned would not have been nearly as important.
If we had been carrying cell phones today I would have dropped my sons off just like I did, then I would have driven over to the barn where I had a yard sale going. But just about then I would have gotten a call from them to let me know I had blown it and I would have had two choices:
a) I could leave all our stuff out on the lawn and drive across town to pick them up
b) I could stay at the yard sale feeling guilty for making them sit under a tree waiting for me.
If they had cell phones, they would have taken it out of their pocket and placed a call. Period.
But they didn’t have cell phones so they had to rely upon old-fashioned thinking. You know – using your brain, looking at the situation, exploring all options, then deciding upon the best course of action? Yeah – that. Solving your own problems rather than calling Mom and having her solve your problems? Yeah, that too.
Because my sons didn’t have a phone in their pocket they had to think. They had to look around at the unexpected situation and think about what they could do to deal with it. They could walk the five miles to the barn, or they could sit under a tree and wait. They chose to wait.
Am I denying my sons a basic human right by not getting them cell phones? No. What I am doing is teaching them to rely upon themselves. I’m teaching them to set up appointments in advance and then actually be there. I’m teaching them to plan ahead and organize and deal with the consequences when a mistake is made. Yes, sometimes that means dealing with the consequences of Mom’s stupidity.
But you know something? That’s life. That’s the way life is. Life doesn’t come with Mom a phone call away to rescue you when you blow it. Life comes with all its ups and downs and twists and turns and each one of those requires us to think to figure them out. Yes, I said think. Not pull an electronic gadget out of your pocket; think.
Lenore Skenazy from Free Range Kids wrote a brilliant article about that.
Cell phones turn adults into babies, constantly needing contact with their spouses, friends and children. In fact, it’s possible that children in a cell-connected world make out worst of all. This morning, not five minutes after I’d left for work, my 11-year-old called from the kitchen to ask if he could have banana bread for breakfast.
Kid — I’m not there. Eat ice cream and marshmallows. Make a vodka smoothie! Go wild or be a good boy, just pretend it’s 1990 and I’m unreachable.
With all of us connected all the time — “Mom, I’m on the bus,” “Mom, I’m two blocks from home” — independence never gets a foothold.
What kind of kids do we want to raise? Do we want kids who know how to look around, explore all options, and figure a way out? Or do we want the only survival skill our kids know is how to pull a phone out of their pocket?
I can tell you with certainty that I want to raise independent young men who know how to think.
Don’t get me wrong – there are great things about phones in general and cell phones in particular, but it’s all about knowing when and where to use it. I learned that lesson early.
My mom was a nurse and left explicit directions that we were to call her at the hospital only in dire emergencies. I took that lesson to heart and made my own decisions. When I woke up sick, I knew to stay home rather than go to school. When I had strep throat, I sat on my bed and sobbed for hours before Mom got home and took me straight down to the ER, scolding me the whole time for not calling her at work.
But I knew what a true emergency was. It was when my 8-year-old self couldn’t get my pigtails put in up high and I called Mom sobbing hysterically into the phone because I couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, go to school without my pigtails. Mom ever so patiently convinced me that I could wear low pigtails that day and she would put in high pigtails the next day.
See – even as a third grader I knew a true emergency when I saw it.
That’s what I want my boys to learn. I want them to know how to identify situations they can take care of themselves and which they need help with. I want them to learn to solve their own problems. I want them to look around and size up the situation, explore all the options, then decide on the best course of action. I don’t want them to automatically reach for the phone.
Kids learn to make decisions by making them. I’ve seen plenty of five-year-old kids with cell phones and those kids were encouraged to call Mom or Dad the very second anything happened. They never learned how to deal with anything because they didn’t have to – Mom was only a phone call away and she would solve the problem. And then all of a sudden those kids are 14 and Mom screws up and drops them off on the wrong weekend and they have no clue how to handle themselves.
It starts early – you can’t baby and coddle kids all their lives and then suddenly expect them to be able to handle independence. It happens in baby steps.
I want to raise strong, independent men who know how to think critically. I want them to understand that, at times, the best course of action is to use a phone. I also want them to understand that they are perfectly capable of taking care of nearly every tricky situation on their own.
And honestly, I’ve yet to meet a problem that a phone could solve.
I’m not the only person on the planet that feels this way – here’s another cell phone holdout. She summed up my feelings perfectly.