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Folks, We Went There With Our Son

My oldest turns older this weekend. It was bound to happen. All of the signs were there, what with the eating, sleeping and endless loads of laundry. Still, 12 is a big one, the last of the preteens, which probably means more on paper than in practice, but IT'S A THING.

Like every milestone there is good and bad attached to it. The latter being the melancholy unraveling of the last threads to childhood, which, granted, is more on me and my wife than anything he needs to worry about. The good is an open book waiting to be written, and the stories he'll be living. The power is his, and like Spider-Man before him, it comes with a lot of responsibility.

And that's how we started talking about a smartphone. It happens.

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Getting a phone for him was something that my wife and I had discussed a few times (we got rid of our home phone over a decade ago) as both a line of communication and a safety precaution. It felt like we were on the verge of necessity.

The boys are at the point where we will leave them unattended for small windows of time, whether we are at the market down the street or out for a run, and thus far we have tethered our check-ins to the unreliable convenience of Wi-Fi messaging, a hodgepodge network comprised of iPads, outdated iPods and the family desktop on their end, along with the iPhones draining in our pockets wherever we may roam. However, I work online all day and, as such, I am fully aware of how often the Internet connection goes out for a moment here and a second there. Those moments and seconds might very well be the exact time required should the boys ever need to reach us in the event of an emergency. You never know, and I don't need to wait to hear the collective "I told you so" of hindsight. I have an awesome imagination.

The ability to have it is the easy part. The ability to ignore it is where we have hit some difficulty.

Needless to say, when opportunity knocked I answered immediately. It was a sponsored post (note, this post is not sponsored), which is a perk of the trade, something that I tend to turn down far more often than not. However, the timing was impeccable, and I took it as a sign—the product for review was a brand new smartphone. I had just the person to look it over.

That person was my son, in case you weren't paying attention (see selfie).

It didn't take long for the phone and the boy to become joined at the wrist (it's a very one-sided relationship), and the agreement was made that he could keep it as his early birthday gift (thank goodness, because a livable wage is not a perk of the trade). That's where the responsibility went up a notch.

Previously, it was quite easy to regulate his time on electronics. He had clear windows allotted to usage and also had access when we were gone as a tool of the aforementioned safety and communication. Also, Minecraft videos.

So now, the entire point of his having a phone hinges on his ability to have it on his person while walking to school, playing in the park or any number of situations where a phone call to a parent (or authorities) might prove necessary. The ability to have it is the easy part. The ability to ignore it is where we have hit some difficulty.

There are lessons here for everyone, and they will be learned together.

I'm not concerned about too much texting or jumping on the next Jott craze (which, if a kid absolutely needs to chat with friends, is actually a pretty decent app, because users have to be within a certain proximity of each other and they cannot be anonymous—that cuts down on bullying and creepy strangers), but the fact that the once clearly established windows are now his to open and close as he sees fit. His windows are open for business, and business is booming.

Now this is the quandary we find ourselves in: How do we allow him to carry his phone at all times while stressing the importance of not using said phone at all times? And how do we have this conversation without looking like a couple of hypocrites as we simultaneously check Facebook, email and anxiously await our next turn on Words with Friends?

Also, are you playing Words with Friends? Find me!

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Turning 12 is a pretty big deal, and there are strings to cut and others for binding. It is a milestone and a stepping stone. There are lessons here for everyone, and they will be learned together.

I'm not kidding about the Words with Friends thing.

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Image by Whit Honea

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