should an 11-year-old have a phone?

My fifth-grader has one of those unfortunate December birthdays: one month absolutely sick with presents, then bupkis for the other eleven. When you have to wait that long, December counts as “around the corner” as soon as you’re back to school.

“You know what I want for my birthday, Mom,” Connor said last night at dinner, with a sheepish grin. “You know what I want for Christmas too. Cause it’s the same thing.”

I do know.

He wants a phone.

kid on phoneAt least half the kids in his class have one, because he’s in fifth grade  now, which seems firmly “big kid,” or at least it does until you have a fifth grader. A few years back, a mom at our school (with older kids) told me fifth grade was the year kids were officially old enough to get themselves to and from school. That sounded fine with me since at the time my oldest was a second grader.

Now he’s in fifth. And as tall as a grownup. And that is old enough to get to school by yourself.

But since we live in New York City, that means he’s solo on  a city bus, the subway, or walking three-quarters of a mile.

I can hear my cousins in Omaha gasping from here, and yes I agree, let’s take the subway off that list right now. Way less dangerous than it used to be, but you’re still stuck underground if something happens.

But with the bus, you can always hop off. And walking is the easiest of all. You can’t get lost: New York City is a grid. If the numbers are getting smaller, you’re heading south.

Which brings us back to the phone. That same older-kid mother told me that fifth grade also equals phone. Not to make phone calls, of course (who does THAT anymore?) but so you can text your mother to say “at the bus stop,” then “at school” six minutes later.

And that makes a ton of sense, until your kids’ school has a meeting for the fifth-grade parents that is ostensibly about all things fifth grade but should have just been called “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO NOT BUY THEM PHONES.”

Smartphones do not make your kids safer, their principal argued. They make your children targets for muggings.

Worse than that is what’s on that smartphone: unfettered, unsupervised access to the Internet. “I have yet to see a child of this age use a smartphone wisely,” the principal said. “Please, please do not give them exposure to things they are just not ready to handle.”

And so I am really struggling with this phone decision. Is my child ready to handle a phone? and the byzantine rules of texting? and walking 14 blocks by himself?

More importantly, am I ready to handle it?

Does your child have a phone? What do you think is the appropriate age for children to get one?

remembering Benjamin Wheeler

Yesterday was another September 11th, and another chance to feel sad at how a lot of America seems to have moved on from remembering. Or, at least, wanting to remember. The victims would want us to move forward and live our lives, we’re told, and maybe that’s true. But I think their families probably appreciated any compassion we showed as a nation for their sorrow twelve years to the day after their loved ones were taken away. I hope they didn’t feel forgotten.

Today is another day, and another chance to remember something too horrible for any of us ever to forget.

My friend Francine lost her son, Benjamin Wheeler, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. Today, September 12th, is Ben’s birthday. He would have been seven years old.

screenshotBen was an absolutely adorable little boy who was fascinated by lighthouses. And so today, as a gesture of hope and love, Ben’s family and friends will be placing a single window candle or other light in their front windows, for the day and night, making their homes lighthouses to guide us to a better, safer, more sane world.

I’d love for you to join me in this wish for a more peaceful world for all children– and to show Francine that her son has not and will not be forgotten.

If you do so, please share photos of your light on the Benjamin Wheeler Fund Facebook Page. I know the Wheelers will be so comforted by your support.