More on the big question – should we let our Miss Ten get a cell/mobile/hand-u pone (thanks, stef!) phone? There’s a couple of points that are turning into deal-makers for me. The first is to do with being social pariahs, and the second is the money question.
Mr Strange Land and I are not social pariahs, we think (‘though other people might have other opinions about that, and if so, I don’t really want to hear them), but we do tend to go our own way a little, together, that is. We don’t get into the school community scene, although we will happily contribute where needed (both cash and time). We have just one TV in the house, and it doesn’t get tuned to the commercial channels all that often; we don’t listen to commercial radio; if we buy magazines, then they will be New Scientist or occasionally a history magazine, or perhaps a foodie one; we loathe big “community” events; parties are okay in moderation, but a lot of the time we would prefer to stay home; we don’t follow sports much (he does a bit, I don’t at all). In short, we’re not mainstream types. If everyone else is doing something, then that’s fine, but we don’t see it as a reason to do it ourselves.
That’s fine for grown-ups. We’ve gotten over the need to fit in, and we don’t think too much about it. But it’s a different matter for children, who don’t have the same emotional and mental resources as middle-aged adults. The strangelings have all had instances of not knowing about the TV programs that everyone else is talking about, or that are being used as examples in class, nad they’ve found that a bit difficult. (They still don’t get to watch things like “Home and Away.”) I’m reluctant to impose my own individualism on my daughters. I will do my best to help them learn to choose their own paths, but I feel that has to come from the inside, from acquiring a sense of themselves and who they are. That means who they are, not who their parents are. It could be that our children turn out to be more comfortable in a crowd. And if so, that’s fine by us. However, I think that they will find their own way much better if it is done at their own pace, rather than being forced to it by the sticks and stones and slights of their classmates.
I can see good reason not to be the only holdout parents in a class. However, I’m taking a huge grain of salt with Miss Ten’s assertion that every other child in her class has a mobile phone, and her claim that she is the only poor, neglected, child without one. I’m sure there will be others there without. Nevertheless, sooner or later, I think it will be good for her to have one, so that she can participate in the social world of her peers.
But then there’s money. That’s a somewhat tricky question, because Miss Ten has a bit of money saved up, and she says she will use her own money to buy and run a phone (more on that later).
Many years ago, when she was Miss Four, Miss Ten decided she wanted some pet fish. Her father agreed, but he asked her to save up for them. So she saved and saved, and eventually she had about $25 to her name (not bad when pocket money in our house is set at $x/week, where x is half your age). At that stage, she changed her mind. I had banned Barbie dolls in our house, for the obvious reasons, and I had told her that I would not buy her one. But one day, she sat at the lunch table and told us that she had decided she was not going to get fish, she was going to spend her money on something else, and it would be something we didn’t like.
“Bloody hell,” I thought. “That child is going to get herself a Barbie.”
I could have said no, that she was not to spend her money on a Barbie. But it was her money. Children have very little power, and and very little space in which they can make decisions for themselves. I thought that it was better for her to be able to have some area of her life that she could control, so I nodded my head, and agreed that she could get herself a Barbie doll, even though I did not like it.
I see the decision about spending her money on a mobile phone as being a little like the Barbie decision. It is her money, and it does seem reasonable for her to have some control over how it is spent. Of course, Mr Strange Land and I are the parents, and we need to make decisions on behalf of our daughters, and to guide them in their decision making. Nevertheless, we also have to let them learn to make decisions for themselves.
So there are two good reasons for allowing Miss Ten to get herself a mobile phone, both based in our approach to parenting.
As many of you suggested, money, and the complexities of mobile phone plans, are issues. So we have asked her to compile a table showing which companies offer which plans, including the cost of phones, on-going connection, txting, and calling. (Frankly, I will be very grateful if she could sort that out for me too!) She also needs to sort out whether her pocket money will cover it, and if it doesn’t, what she could do to earn more money to cover the cost.
I have also suggested to her that perhaps she needs to get a bit more organised about her life in general before she gets a mobile phone. Little things like keeping her room tidy and remembering to do her homework and piano practice, and helping with the household chores. In other words, start to be a little more responsible, and then we could be sure that she is ready for the responsibility of a mobile phone.
I’m hoping that by thinking about money, and getting organised and being responsible, she will acquire an even greater sense of control over her own life, and a greater sense of being someone who has power. And that in turn will help with finding her way into being her own person, able to make decisions for herself, and to hell with what the crowd is doing. If she wants to go with the crowd, then that’s fine by me. But I would like it to be her decision.
As for raising feminists – she already says she wants to be a feminist when she grows up. I’ve pointed out that she can be one now. But all the feminists I know are people with a strong sense of themselves, a sense that they can, and will, change the world, even if it is one teaspoon at a time. I can think of no better way to raise feminists than by helping them to have power and the ability to do things, right from the start.