Pomp And Circumspection

Does an 11-year-old need a smartphone?
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So here’s my question: When is your son or daughter old enough for a cellphone?

In the town I live in in New Jersey, three elementary schools feed into one large middle school, starting in 6th grade. My older son is “graduating” from elementary school this week, and the rule of thumb for most parents around here is the kid gets a cellphone when he gets to middle school.

It’s not a privilege thing necessarily; it’s more of a practical decision. The middle school is further across town. He is juggling baseball, basketball, tennis, scouting and other activities. He will not be bussed. My wife and I spend a good part of our week acting as chauffeurs, dropping off at various fields, gyms and friends’ houses. Carpools are the norm. Occasionally signals get crossed or circumstances arise and suddenly you have a kid stranded across town without a ride. A cellphone, in that case, is a necessity. As is a phone that texts, because in all honesty, once kids around here get a cellphone, for the most part their voices shut off and their fingers take over all forms of communication.

However ... and here’s where it gets tricky ... does an 11-year-old need a smartphone? My immediate response to that question is: Of course not. But the reality here in my neck of New Jersey is the majority of kids end up with smartphones, mostly because they have been handed down from a parent or older sibling. I get it. Take advantage of the upgrade, get a new phone, and your kid makes do with your gently used  iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4.

My concern is the ubiquitousness of the Internet in his life. My kids are plugged in as soon as they walk in the door. They do their homework on a computer, and check their answers on the school website. Or they’re searching eBay for desired Pokemon cards, or breeding exotic dragons on the iPad with DragonCity, or hitting bombs with Mike Trout on RBI ’15.

The idea of just the slightest disconnect from the online world — just during school hours — I think is healthy and ultimately more productive. But what to do if everyone around him is plugged in, and he’s not? Should I care?

I’ve posed this question to more than a few people in the past few weeks, both industry types and non. I’m curious what our readers’ take is. So consider yourself being crowdsourced. Should I get my 11-year-old a smartphone? Drop me a line at jlaposky@nbmedia.com or tweet me @johnlaposky if you  have had to make a similar decision. I’d love your feedback.


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