There's no question that modern technology has simplified life in a number of ways (72). But technology has unfortunately complicated life in one critical area: parenting.
Because unlike previous generations, today's parents are forced to answer difficult technology-based child-rearing questions like:
• Should children be allowed unsupervised access to the Internet? (No)
• Should children get to play whatever video games they want? (Yes, as long as they only want to play "Frogger" with Dad)
• Is it ethical to surreptitiously implant your child with a sub-dermal GPS tracking device? (Only in extreme cases, such as if the child ever wants to leave the house).
Perhaps the toughest technological dilemma today's parents face relates to cell phones. By now cell phones have become commonplace among high school students, who can frequently be seen talking or texting away while waiting for the school bus, hanging out with friends, ignoring customers from behind the counter at retail establishments, etc.
But now cell phones are often in the hands of much younger kids, forcing parents to make the cell phone call (ha!) much earlier.
Part of the decision, I suppose, comes down to whether you're the kind of parent who wants to give your children all the advantages you never had. Then again, maybe like me, you figure, why should my kids get to watch DVDs on long car drives instead of playing boring license plate-spotting games, enjoy access to Internet smut when we had to make do with the JC Penney catalog, or have unlimited cell phone use when kids of my generation had to stretch the telephone cord all the way into the bathroom and close the door just to get a little privacy?
But the biggest argument for providing kids with cell phones is safety. That's why some parents will agree to give their child a cell phone, but only for use in case of an emergency. Which usually turns out to be a fine compromise until the first bill arrives and parents realize that there is some disagreement in the household about what constitutes an "emergency."
"But Dad, I had to use the phone when I found out that Zoe told Jaden that she liked him, but just as friends, and would go to the dance with him, but that was before Zak told her that he like liked her and wanted to go to the dance with her, but only if it was cool with Jaden. But then Jaden was, like, I only invited Zoe because I felt sorry for her, and that meant that Kylie, who has secretly been crushing on Jaden for, like forever, could go to the dance with him, but she had to meet him right after school before Ashlynn, who we are almost positive also likes Jaden, could ask him to go with her. So that explains why I had to send, like, 700 text messages in one day."
The other time-honored tactic kids will inevitably trot out is to insist that all the other kids have cell phones, so they should too. Naturally, we parents are wise to this gambit, and respond by saying, "Oh yeah? If all the other kids jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you too? Because water damage will void the warranty on a cell phone, and you're not getting another one."
But the greatest danger posed by cell phones in the hands of children is undoubtedly the risk of a mistake with long term consequences, the sort of consequences teachers and school administrators in my youth regularly threatened us with by saying that any infraction we committed would go on our "permanent record.”
"Well, Mr. Fleschner, everything seems to be in order, and I see no reason why you should face any opposition in the vote on your appointm- whoa, wait a second, what's this? I've just been handed a copy of your permanent record. Is it true that in junior high you broke into the principal's office and used your AV training to play Captain & Tennille's Greatest Hits on a continuous loop over the school's PA system? Well I'm sorry, but that's not the type of behavior we expect from a prospective Secretary General of the United Nations."
But unlike the phony-baloney "permanent record" files, cell phones today can contribute to a person's permanent digital record, much to the dismay of countless naive kids who've send out compromising photos of themselves and philandering professional golfers who believe that text messages magically self-destruct, much like secret agents' coded instructions.
So after weighing the pros and cons, I've decided my kids won't be getting cell phones any time soon. And in case of a real emergency, well, I guess that will be a good chance to test their independence and fortitude. Also their implanted GPS trackers.