Rabbi Ross. My children are begging me for a cellphone. They have reasons ranging from, “Everyone else has one” to, “It’s easier to keep you updated.” My husband and I are quite hesitant, but they are very persistent. We were wondering how you felt about this issue. Ahuva – Teaneck N.J.
Ahuva, thank you for your question. This is one of most common questions I receive, and I held off on responding until my own kids began to ask for one. When children want something these days, the word “no” is no longer an acceptable answer. When they hear “no” they translate it to, “Ask 4,000 more times and maybe I’ll get a better answer.”
Why do kids want a cell phone? (I apologize in advance for the sarcasm). First of all, as you pointed out, everyone has one. It's a form of child abuse to not give your children something that everyone else has. Second of all, what if there's an emergency? Or they need to contact the proper authorities! Most importantly, they need to be able to text their friends. How else are they supposed to communicate?
To us, it seems foolish. What do kids, even kids in high school, need a phone for? They get on the bus, they go to school, and come back home. It's not just any phone that they want. Try giving them an “old school” flip phone, and you’ll hear true cries of agony. “How can I text?”
Obviously, it is beyond the scope of this article to fully appreciate all the pros and cons, but these are the primary ones. Let's go through the pros of giving them a phone:
Let's review the cons:
To make this discussion more interesting, many schools don't even allow phones. As a result, if you allow your child to bring in a phone for emergencies even if it's off, you're teaching him to disobey rules. If you think that your son is handing in the phone to the administration every day, I've got a bridge to sell you. Even if your son would be willing to, after a few weeks, the school will stop collecting them.
Getting back to your question, I can't really answer it. There are so many variables involved, that each family has to works best for them. However, I will certainly share some ideas that might assist you in making your final decision.
Have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.