Moms Talk: 7-Year-Olds with Cell Phones

Why my daughter has a smartphone, even though she's so young.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of quality TV and videos a day for older children and no screen time for children under the age of 2." 

Oh thank heavens. They didn’t mention iPhone apps. Whew.

In all seriousness, my 7-year-old daughter has an iPhone. It’s my old one, left over from an upgrade to a 4, and it has no SIM card, so it cannot make calls. It’s just an app delivery device. Perhaps we should call it an iPod touch, but it isn’t, so we don’t.

And, anyway, we wouldn’t get fewer glares if we did.

We live in a technology town in a technology area, but tech and kids is a touchy subject no matter where you are. From those who embrace the electronic babysitter to those who are appalled at what it means about us as parents and a society, there are sides to this war, and people are armed and ready.

Here’s the thing. Technology is a part of our lives. Do you know anyone over the age of 12 that doesn’t have an email address? I know some holdouts without smartphones and Facebook accounts, but email? It’s everywhere.

We got my daughter a Gmail account almost as soon as we named her. Mostly as a placeholder for her name, but also so that all of our friends our age could send her as email as soon as they got the birth announcement. These younger members of our lives sent messages of love and welcome that she can read as she gets older and know how much she was wanted and embraced by our community.

This electronic version of love bothers some people. A friend of mine who happens to be a teenager posted on Facebook last night how much she enjoys getting a nightly text of love from her mother (also a good friend of mine). This comes every night, even if the daughter is just downstairs. While I was still saying “Aw, how sweet,” I read the first comment, a shocked statement that this was a message that should be delivered in person, not electronically.

My friend said exactly what I would have. This is a loving mom who gives lots of messages of love in real life, but this electronic ritual will be able to continue even when she moves out. Whether she is in college or working a night shift or trying to decide how much technology to give her own child, she will be able to look forward to a little blip of pixels that reminds her that her mom loves her. 

I’m sorry, but that deserves an “Aw.” That’s parenting.

As long as technology is additive, I see no issue. I’d rather have my daughter playing with an app than watching TV. It’s interactive, uses her mind, and if that is the trade, I’m all for it. 

Of course, I’d rather have her read a book than do an app or watch TV, but she’s an extraverted kid, and reading is an introverted activity. It actually wasn’t until she found out about email and texting that she became interested in reading at all. The idea of having a private conversation with her grandmother who lives in another state, not moderated by my presence, made her want to learn to read, when nothing else I had to offer did. 

And now she’s doing math worksheets every night, with the goal of earning herself an iPad so that they can video chat. Judge away, but she’s happily doing math. That’s additive in my book. And it’s not like I won’t be the one picking out the apps and limiting when and where she can use the thing. That’s parenting. It doesn’t go away with the appearance of electronics.

I’m not without hypocrisy in this war. One of my daughter’s friends her age has a real working cell phone, and when I found out, I was just as shocked as people are when they see my daughter with her neutered one. But after thinking about it, I had to shake off my first thoughts. I know this boy to be responsible, savvy, and sometimes going out of the range of a walkie-talkie. So, as with all things, I guess it depends on the kid.

Mine won’t be getting a working phone any time soon, though. Twelve, I say, arbitrarily. Twelve.

That’s parenting.

Julie March 30, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Thanks for this. Great article. Parenting is about what is right for YOUR kid, not judging what is right for everyone else's kid. Like it or not, we live in a technology world. Withholding technology from our kids is not going to help them in the long run.
Sheryl March 30, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Great article. I have to confess that I like most people often judge as well but when I think about it longer I want to be able to raise my kids with our own approach and respect people that choose their own. While my kiddos love everything plugged in we try to limit them to weekends and early release days. I do have to say that I loved reading as a kid even those I was an extrovert but we had very limited entertainment choices in my day. In the end peope get to the same place taking different paths. Now onto picking an arbitrary age myself for when they can get a phone.
Mike March 30, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Great article. It was pretty shocking to people when we bought my son an iPod touch for his 3 year old birthday. But what that has done for his reading and understanding is phenomenal. He's read at a third grade level since he was 4, and I dare say it's because of having all of the educational apps from the iPod. It's definitely about what's right not only for your kids but each kid individually. My son has always used his for education where our daughters use it almost solely for entertainment and thus we limit their use a little more.
Kristen Moore March 30, 2012 at 08:30 PM
The next time someone gives you 'the look' I think you should pretend to call your daughter on that phone and loudly warn her that their are rude people to her left, right, whatever.
Zillydilly March 30, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Kids,parents,and technology is an area rife with more heat than light. As a child psychiatrist, among others, I recognize that parents need guidance
Malia Kawaguchi March 31, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Wow, thanks for the comments, everyone! Kristen - you made me snort tea. :) Mike, exactly! I'm amazed at how many people think that Math Magic and Angry Birds are the same, just because they're both "apps." Sheryl - she likes reading now, but it was a while before the stories seemed to be talking to her. Julie - absolutely amen. A. Freaking men. Zillydilly, guidance is great. I personally use the heck out of Common Sense Media. But even perfect sourcing of appropriate movies, tv shows, and apps does not stop the judgement of the luddites. Still, always happy to have more guidance! :)
Chris Macbeth March 31, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Our girls also have our hand me down iphone and itouch neither can make calls and they just use them for the apps. My 2.5 year old can work my iphone, ipad, and kindle fire better than I can sometimes. My 7 year old now wants an ipod of her own and may get my old ipod.


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