Three's A'loud

When phones become phoney

I still remember getting my first cellphone like it was yesterday. I was 16 years old and in grade 8. It was a magical time. I don’t even mean magical-as-in-I-was-so-happy-to-have-a-phone. I mean magical-as-in-imagine-being-able-to-receive-calls-wherever-you-go-surely-that-is-not-possible. Up until that point I had to stand in line at the boarding school phone-booth to receive one call per week from my almost-boyfriend and two calls per week from my mom. You had to plan your day perfectly so you would reach the front of the queue in time for your call but not too soon, otherwise the other girls get irritated and you lose your spot. It took real dedication.

So anyway, for my 16th birthday, in the summer of 1998, my parents bought me a phone for my birthday. I loved that phone. It was a Sony Ericsson and you could exchange the cover so it was red, yellow or green. And it was square. And the messages came through in one long horizontal line and you had to scroll to the right one letter at a time. Magical, as I said.

Fast forward to 2015.

Time flies when you’re having fun and now I am a mom. Thing is, my 7-year old is driving me crazy. She wants a phone, and please note, not the kind that I got for my 16th birthday. Apparently “all her friends” are sending messages and “how do I expect her to speak with grandma” without her own phone. The way I am feeling now, maybe I should just drop her off with grandma for a week?? But I needed a more permanent solution so I started asking around. At what age are we supposed to get the little monkeys all geared up? Won’t the waves fry their fragile little brains? Will it make them anti-social? Will they see things that can never be unseen?? Can I not just rather lock you up in the nearest tower, my little Rapunzel??

I asked all these questions, and more on a few Facebook groups. Please don’t raise your eyebrows like that. Yes, I see the irony of not wanting to expose my child to technology but then asking for help online. No, I didn’t have time to invite 18210 of my best friends over for a glass of wine to ask their advice. I did, however, have time to chat with a few parents, just like you and me, on the magical internet. While having a glass of wine myself. Here is what they have to say on the subject.

Gerhard Visagie, father of Phillip and Lauré from Rietfontein, says he believes kids should have access to a tablet from as early as 3 or 4 years old. A phone can come much later. He has experienced how kids use tablets to learn math, read and solve problems while they are having fun. He hits the nail on the head in saying that technology is here to stay and the more kids are exposed to it now, the better they are going to perform in many areas later in life. He adds that it is your job as a parent to enforce balance and moderation and I can't agree more.

Michelle Sabor-Mabuza, a 28 year old mother from Cape Town and a member of Mamahood Cape Town, says her daughter was 4 years old when her dad got her an iPad. She has taught herself everything from downloading to posting pictures. Now at age 7 she has a mobile, but is not too fazed by possessions or the idea that she needs to carry it everywhere.

Claudia Smit, a 29-year old Johannesburg mother says her daughter will get the most basic of phones when she starts primary school for safety reasons. She doesn’t agree with a child having a fancy phone until they understand the responsibility of having one and “definitely no phone with internet access whatsoever.”

Lisa Peach, a mother from Johannesburg says her girls of 6 and 7 years old each has a phone but they are only allowed to use it when in their bedroom to avoid being anti-social. She says they really just listen to music and send whatsapp messages to family members. They are not attached at all… unlike many adults.

Finally, I personally think Theresa Hills from Durban summarises it perfectly: “Being old school, I always believed that kids should be outside playing in trees but honestly, our children are growing up in and for a technological world. This has made me think twice about the things that I believed before. Our role as parents is to prepare our kids to be successful in the world in which they will be making their way as adults and not the world in which we became adults. Now I think that we should introduce them to technology at a young age but that we need to teach them the skills that they need and give them the tools that they need to be functional but safe in a technology driven society.”

Many more people responded to my questions and I realised once again that we all have our kids’ best interests at heart, no matter how we end up approaching the challenge. For me personally it helped to realise that it’s not an all-or-nothing scenario. The options are endless and in there you can find something that you are comfortable with. As for some of the main concerns we deal with:

  • Radio waves frying their little brains

    I am personally not a huge fan on statistics found on the internet (Leonardo Da Vinci said that 89% of stats found online are made up), but apparently there is still no conclusive evidence that phones or other technology are doing more harm to our brains than the food we eat or Afrikaans Sokkie music.

  • Too much inappropriate content

    Newsflash: You cannot just buy your kid a phone or iPad and then just sit back and leave them to it. You have to check on them, know what they are up to and which sites they are visiting (if any). It is not called spying it is called being a parent and it is what you signed up for. Until what age you will monitor your kid’s online habits will depend on you and on your child.

  • Becoming anti-social

    Not really a problem in most cases, if our parents on Facebook are anything to go by. Once again, you as parent need to manage and monitor. Which brings me to another important point… what example are we setting ourselves? Yes, I am talking to you. You are reading this on your phone, aren’t you? If not, I will bet my next cup of coffee that your phone is lying right next to the computer you are reading this on.

In the end, this is the world we live in and unfortunately you cannot lock your little Rapuntzel in a tower to protect them from the big bad world. Make sure you are involved in their lives, stay up to date with technology yourself and make it a “team sport” instead of a solo performance.

Going forward I am going to try and embrace all the technology our kids have access to and help them manage it and maintain a balance. But I have to finish by saying this: As noted in the beginning of this article, I was 16 when I received my first phone and it was magical. But you know what sounds magical to me right now? Being a 16-year old girl in boarding school without a cellphone. Getting to the front of the phone-booth queue just as the phone starts ringing. No funny ringtones or the latest hit song, a loud clashing ring that is the most beautiful sound in the world. And you don’t need any caller ID to know who is at the other end of the line…

Magical to me right now, would be sitting curled up on the phone-booth floor, chin on your knees, clutching the receiver and grinning from ear to ear as your almost-boyfriend tells you he actually really likes you. Waiting outside the school gates two days later in your pretty new summer dress and hoping with all your might that he will arrive to pick you up for coffee. Because he said he will two days ago (right after he said he really likes you.) You haven’t spoken since. You haven’t sent 50 pointless messages with animated pictures trying to relay real feelings. You haven’t checked with him what time he left home, where he “checked-in” in the last couple of days or saw any pictures of his breakfast on Instagram. You just trust that he will be there at the time he said he will.

Magical to me right now would be getting into the passenger seat of his car when he arrives, as promised, right on time. Driving to the quant little tea garden around the corner and ordering coffee and cake with only the menu and the sugar on the table. No peeking at messages from who-knows-who. No “let me just check-in quick” or “look here what So-and-So is doing.” Just you and him, talking about your week as if you haven’t seen each other in days… because you actually haven’t.

Magical is having him drop you off at the gates with a little kiss (because you still weren’t quite sure how to do that French-thing), and lying in bed that night staring at the ceiling with a huge grin and imagining what your babies will look like someday (that is, once you figure that kissing-thing out.) No light blinking on your beside table. No checking if he is poking or following or friending anyone else in the meantime. Just a young girl imagining all the conversations she will have with him next week.

Now that is magic on a level that technology can never match. I wish with all my heart that my girls will experience a little bit of that in their own way someday.

This article was first published on Master of Quills

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