Cell Phone for a Six Year Old

The Right Call

With type one diabetes I haven’t allowed my daughter to go down the road yet, let alone a sleepover with friends. And now … well, the invitations likely won’t flow anyway now that I’m probably going to be known as “that parent,” the one who gave her 6-year-old a cell phone.

“I need a cell phone for my 6-year-old.”

The words sounded as absurd as I feared they would as I stood defiantly in front of the Verizon guy at BJs in Pittsfield. After all, what kind of crazy mom buys a cell phone for a first-grader?

The Verizon guy, though, barely blinked. “What do you need?” he asked in a casual tone that made me wonder if he has seen this situation before.

He didn’t ask, but I felt compelled to explain all the same. “She has a medical condition and I need her to have a phone so she can call home if she needs to from wherever she is,” I said.

This was a huge step for me. I barely use my own cell phone, and I have been known to publicly complain about the rude, self-centered generation we are raising with their noses buried in the latest text message.

But I put those feelings aside to give my daughter Noelle a phone — and some independence, despite her type one diabetes.

We tested out the theory before the big purchase by sending her to karate camp a half-mile away from our home in Williamstown with a spare phone and instructions to call after she tested her blood glucose at snack time. It worked perfectly, but it was a bittersweet celebration when she came home from camp and got her high-fives.

Even taking the diabetes out of the equation, letting go of a young child is not easy. As parents, we watch them crawl and toddle and skip and jump farther and farther away from us as they grow. Which is how it’s supposed to be, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Add a serious medical condition to the equation, and allowing for the normal progression of independence becomes an extreme challenge. Some of Noelle’s friends are having sleepovers; I haven’t allowed her to go down that road yet. I would have to come along, and who wants me camping out on their couch for the night? Or I would have to host every time, and who wants other kids in their house all the time?

And now … well, the invitations likely won’t flow anyway now that I’m probably going to be known as “that parent,” the one who gave her 6-year-old a cell phone, which is sure to prompt lots of “but Noelle has one” whines from her friends.

“Don’t you dare tell anyone you sold me a phone for a 6-year-old,” I threatened the Verizon guy as he rang up my purchase, a pay-as-you-go basic flip phone that he helped me program our numbers into as speed dial choices — and helped me block texting, music and a few other features that a smart kid like Noelle might be able to figure out with time.

Noelle proudly carried her new phone around BJs as we continued shopping. I let her test it in the car with a call to her Auntie Missy and take pictures on it to her heart’s content.

On the ride home, I turned and smiled at her as she practiced turning the phone on and off.

“I’m so proud of you,” I told her. She smiled back and flipped the phone closed.


Rebecca Dravis

Pittsfield native Rebecca Dravis is a former journalist who lives in north Berkshire County with her husband and daughter in Williamstown, MA. In Just My Type Rebecca shares her experiences as a parent raising a child with type one diabetes. – Check out Just My Type on the third Monday of every month.

[Photo credit: (ccl) fensterbme]

4 Comments on “Cell Phone for a Six Year Old

  1. Thanks for this post. I, too, felt I had to get a cell phone for my child when she was young, much younger than I had planned. My children’s father and I are divorced and unfortunately my daughter had been witness to her father losing control of his temper and kicking and throwing things. It is very difficult to prove this in court and I was unable to prevent their father from seeing them unsupervised. To make my kids feel safe and to give me the peace of mind of knowing that they could call me if they needed to, I gave my daughter her own cell phone when she was 7 (her brother was 3 at the time.) I also blocked unnecessary functions and monitored its use, giving it to her only when she was leaving for her father’s house. Sometimes reality forces us to change our priorities.

    Bill Corbett, I find your argument that this makes other parent’s lives difficult to be a specious one. If you agree with the argument that giving your child something that other kids are envious of should be avoided in order to make other parent’s jobs easier, I assume that you never take your children on trips, to see shows, on hikes or bike rides, anywhere fun really. It would be nice if the world was fair and all kids were afforded the same “rewards”. But every family has a different situation and it’s our job as parents to help our children navigate disappointments and frustrations. Likewise, we can’t protect our children from the world by never giving them access to it. I see my job as a parent not as gatekeeper, preventing all objectionable content from ever reaching my kids but as educator, teaching them to make the right decisions for themselves as to what is appropriate.

  2. I’m not going to agree with Bill either, but I’m going to move on. I tend to view this site as a “take what I like and leave the rest” so I will leave Bill’s comments alone.

    Rebecca I think you did a great thing. Also if your daughter has an emergency and can’t operate that phone herself then it should be easy for another person to find that phone & quickly figure out how to contact you. Very good thinking on your part, and yes smart to block the added features which would cost a fortune on a pay-as-you-go phone too.

    It’s too bad cell phones don’t work in Leverett & Shutesbury where I live. I think they could be very useful for kids with medical conditions (diabetes, allergies, asthma, etc).. kids who could be granted some independence in situations like you describe.

  3. great post. I can feel how conflicted the author feels over this. I’m glad she has the technology available to her family to allow her kid some age appropriate independence that she was previously unable to participate in. The whole family will benefit from it. @Bill Corbett, I’m very surprised you blame other parents for the “i wants” whining. It really has nothing to do with cell phones. It can be applied to anything. As I say to my preschooler on the playground when he sees other kids doing things that I’ve asked him not to do, “all parents have different rules for different reasons, your job is to follow my rules because I’m your parent”. I’m sure your kids friends who have cell phones just nag their parents about something else they want.

  4. Thank you for this post. It provides some perspective on the issue of young children having cell phones for emergency use only. I’m also glad to see the you are not allowing texting and music. I hope it will also be a part of your plan to check it often so that no one else has shown her how to activate them.

    I am a parent educator and contributor to this blog. I’m also the author of the award-winning book, “Love, Limits & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids.” I speak to parents and professionals nationally on this very topic and want to provide some input from a different perspective.

    While I acknowledge your decision to let her have one, there are many other parents who let their 6-12 year olds have one just because they want them to have one. Regardless of the reason, I can’t help but voice my opinion on how your decision (and the decision of all those others) affects the rest of us, parents who have committed to ban hand-held electronic devices (Internet enabled or not) from their children’s lives.

    When our children see children like yours (and others) with cell phones, iPads, or even laptops, it sends them screaming to us, “You’re not fair… EVERYONE has a cell phone except me.” I realize that this is not your problem, but you are helping to create it. Children today see their peers with something and then want to know why they can’t have one as well.

    My point is, your decision to give your child a cell phone has instantly made life difficult for other parents who now have to listen to their children whining about wanting one too. I am not criticizing your decision, I am only trying to express the impact your purchase (and the purchase by other parents) has made on the rest of us.

    My youngest child still at home is 14 and she just got her first (well monitored and supervised) cell phone on her 14th birthday. Most of her friends had their first phones at 8 and 9 years of age and for the past 5 years we’ve had to endure the whining, begging, pleading, and even the occasional sharp barbs, “Your the meanest parents ever!” thanks to all those other parents who bought their kids phones at an early age.

    The population of parents (like me) affected by the cell phone purchases of other parents then seems to fall into two categories: the one my wife and I are in, those who stand firm in not caving to our child’s pleads, and to let our children whine all they want and just ignore it, and the other one made up of parents who cave and join you in giving their young child an electronic device.

    And here’s where it gets worse. The parents who “cave” are usually the ones who do not check their child’s activity on the phone or monitor texts, pictures, music or Web sites. These parents either have no knowledge of technology or no time to get involved, or they suffer the from the “Halo Affect” and believe their child “wouldn’t do anything they know they wouldn’t want them to do.” Now these children are exposed to inappropriate material and begin to share it with our children.

    I do wish the best for your little girl and hope that she never has to call you in an emergency. I also hope that you only let her have the phone when she is away from you and that you take possession of it the rest of the time so that she understands it is not a norm for someone her age to have one, thus influencing her friends to want one as well.

    Thank you for being brave enough to post your story and to put it out there to spark some conversation over it.

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