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Don't hate me for giving my 8-year-old a cellphone

Bryanne is a freelance writer who lives in Southern California with her active-duty husband and their two teenage sons. She is a passionate human-rights activist and cultural enthusiast. In between writing and family life, Bryanne spends...

I'm OK being the mom who let her 8-year-old have a cellphone

Hi, my name is Bryanne, and it’s been 10 years since I gave my son his first cellphone. I should probably mention that he was 8 at the time, and despite what the internet parenting police might think, I’m not sorry about it in the slightest.

Yes, I've read all the blogs and Facebook rants that complain young children shouldn’t have technology like cellphones or even computers. They warn that access to these devices hinders a child’s innocence and sets them up for dangerous things like sex and cyberbullying. They even warn about the possibility of brain cancer.

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All those things sure do sound scary.

So does breathing polluted air, eating food sprayed with pesticides or charred on a grill, driving in cars, going to school, swimming in lakes and a bunch of other potentially dangerous and deadly stuff. Unless we want to raise the next Bubble Boy (or Girl), I think we need to relax for a second. We are also parents and can do parenting things like monitor our children's online and cellular interactions and teach them appropriate behavior. But what do I know?

What drove my decision to arm my son with a phone was simple: I wanted to be able to stay connected with him, and I also wanted to give him a tiny bit of freedom in a world that can, at times, be scary.

My 8-year-old wanted to ride his bike with two of his friends to the elementary school a block away. Riding bikes with friends was something I did, my parents did, and assuming my grandparents had bikes, they probably did too. None of us had supervision past the age of, I dunno, 5, and even though I watched the news, as a parent I felt he and his friends were mature enough to pedal down to the playground and have some fun.

But I’m also a realist. I knew that something could happen to my son when he was out of my line of sight. That’s a risk I took the minute I gave birth, fully knowing I wouldn’t be able to keep my child in my womb for the rest of his life.

While I trusted my son and his buddies, I still felt better knowing he had access to calling me if he needed to (and that I could call him). My husband, who had just deployed to war, had left his mediocre flip phone at home since he wouldn’t be able to use it. I handed it over to my elementary schooler.

“There, now you can keep your eye on the time and call me if you need anything,” I said. My son’s eyes were huge, like I’d just given him pancakes and ice cream for dinner (we weren’t at that stage of the deployment yet). “Just be careful with it,” I told him.

I made sure my son understood the importance of respecting the phone (don't throw it) and that he actually knew how to use it. Fortunately he did. He was given a curfew of one hour, and he left on his bike, screaming, "My mom gave me a cellphone, guys!"

He called me five minutes later, then two minutes after that, and again in seven minutes. The phone was a novelty, and I didn't mind the calls, especially since they allowed me to stay home with my very sick 6-year-old.

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My son made it home right on time and asked if he could keep the phone, to which I said no. I looked at the call log to see if he’d done what I would have at his age — prank calls — but nope, nothing.

The next time he wanted to go somewhere I felt was safe enough for him to venture to alone, he again got the phone. After about a month, he stopped giving it back to me, and frankly, I stopped caring. We were still paying for the phone service and rarely used it; he could call his friends, and I could call him when he was out playing.

When I was 8, I frequently tied up our home phone line, talking to friends or (my favorite) prank-calling my least favorite teachers who were (luckily) always listed in the phone book. The fact that my son had his own phone wasn't much different, except teachers were smarter and had stopped listing their home numbers.

Six months later, my husband came home and purchased a better phone for himself, and he let our older son keep the hand-me-down. Then, two years later, when our younger son turned 8, he got that same old phone, and we upgraded our older son with (you guessed it) my husband’s two-year-old phone, keeping the cycle of trickle-down economics in full swing.

It's been a decade, and I've never regretted giving either of my kids a phone. Throughout their childhood, their phones have served as a tool to keep us connected more than I had been with my own parents. When something was wrong at school, they called me. When I wasn’t home and they had a rough day, they sent me a text. Thanks to their phones, we’ve always been able to reach each other. It's been a wonderful thing to have.

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My sons are now 16 and 18, and as I expected they would be, they're totally fine. They have much better phones, and they have and jobs and skills, like building computers or looking up how to do cool things like play the guitar on YouTube. If you ask me, I think having a phone is pretty rad. At 16, I was still trying to figure out how to do my eyeliner. My kids are way cooler.

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