To phone or not to phone? The debate rages on between divorced parents who either want their kids to have their own phone, and those who hate them. This is not the typical debate over whether or when to get a phone for a child, but what role it can play in post-divorce life. Some say they’re a necessary lifeline between parent and child, while others claim they are tools of drama.
I’ve spent some time on both sides of this fence at different ages and stages of my children’s (including my step kid’s) lives and the individual circumstances each one became involved in. I’ve also been paying attention to the concerns and complaints of other divorced parents and these are the arguments I hear for and against phones:
1. Access to the child. First and foremost, almost any parenting plan in existence clearly states that children should have regular and free access to a phone to have contact with both parents, daily if desired. While no one wants to see a parent take advantage of that situation by calling or texting and monopolizing unreasonable amounts of time to chat during the other parent’s time, the parent and child are almost always allowed to have at least a few minute private conversation, if they choose.
Of course, a child need not have their own phone for this right to be exercised. All that is necessary is for the child to be able to use a phone to make or receive a call to the other parent.
I respect the fact that when it is one parent’s designated time with the child, it’s not cool for the other parent to make multiple calls and butt in on that time; however, a call to say goodnight or to ask how the day is going and exchange “I love you’s” is perfectly acceptable. What is not acceptable is one parent blocking access to telephone contact. Again, the kid need not be in possession of their own phone. He or she just needs to be allowed to use one.
The phone is, perhaps, one of the most powerful tools in game playing. I read and hear infinite complaints of moms and dads who try to call their kids only to be told (multiple times) that the child is busy, doesn’t want to talk, or the phone is not answered. Not cool! I encourage any parent who receives this treatment to save phone records to show attempts at calling, texts denying contact, and so on. This is contempt, in most cases, and should not be allowed!
2.Tools of drama. Some divorced parents argue that phones are battery-powered troublemakers. Any kid with a phone can use it to cause problems, which is why careful consideration should be given to maturity, compliance with your rules, and ability to protect themselves from dangers on the internet and through texting.
Beyond the decision of whether or not a child is ready for their own phone, is the question of what they might use it for (or be asked to use it for) in a divorce situation?
One dad I spoke with told me he eventually banned the kid’s phones from his home because they were using them to spy for their mom. When he discovered that kids were given orders to record conversations, text details of every activity and other private information from his home, he drew the line. He welcomed the kids to use his phone to call or text their mom whenever they wished and she was allowed to call anytime (as long as it was before bed time or not when they were in church, a movie, or otherwise occupied).
Another parent I interviewed confided that her son brought a phone to her home, and when she discovered that the phone was locked and she was not allowed access to the phone, she sent it right back to his dad.
As with the dad who banned phones in his home, she declined to let her son’s in her house because she felt that as his parent she needed to be able to supervise his phone activities (within reason) to ensure that he used it appropriately. She believed it necessary to at least have the ability to occasionally review his contacts and other activity because he was only 7 and not yet savvy about internet or texting safety. She allowed him and his father to contact one another as much as they wanted through her phone.
When her son turned 12 she happily paid for him to have a phone and even had it set up for him when she gave it to him with phone contacts set up for all of his dad’s family, complete with a nice picture and fun ring tone set up for each. Hers was not a matter of not wanting him to have phone contact with his dad or dad’s family; but the fact that she didn’t think he was ready for the responsibility of a phone and she needed access to be his parent.
3. Don’t shoot the messenger. Parents, if you have a question or information that needs to be conveyed to your ex, be an adult and communicate that message directly to your ex! If you don’t have a great relationship with your ex, by all means text them a date and time or other update. Just because your child now has a phone doesn’t mean that they need to carry the burden of official message carrier!
I talked to a father who told me that his children received cell phones for Christmas. Ever since, whenever the kids are at his house their mom now texts them messages like “tell your dad…” or “I’m here to get you, come out now!” The only problem was that she wasn’t communicating any of this information to him. Many of the issues she funneled through the kids required some adult discussion or were not things the kids should have been pulled into the middle of.
Let’s allow kids to be kids and not assign them roles such as soldier, spy, or messenger! If you decide to give your child a phone, make sure they are responsible enough to take care of it and themselves. Don’t have an ulterior motive in providing a phone such as using it to spy or interfere with the other parent’s relationship with the child. No matter what, don’t stand in the way of a child being allowed to call or accept a phone call, with privacy and reasonable time constraints. Good luck with your game of telephone!