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Every Kid Needs a Cell Phone*

Photograph by Getty Images

Though parenting magazines, child psychologists and Dr. Phil would tell you otherwise, I’m here to say that the single most important thing to have when raising teens is a good, working cell phone. Sure, a loving home along with a sound moral base and a good education are important, but did that English Honors class ever help you track down your teen when she was at the mall at the time she said she was going to be at the library? I rest my case.

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I admit I got my kids started early. They got their first phones when they were in elementary school, and it happened because of one incident: We couldn’t find my younger daughter (who was in the 2nd grade at the time), and after a frantic 20-minute search—during which I had already composed my interview with the evening news on my child’s abduction—we discovered her playing handball behind a building with her friends. I peeled right out of that school parking lot and went straight to the store to buy them cell phones, much to their excitement.

(As I typed that last paragraph it just dawned on me that it was all probably part of a clever plot to get me to buy them cell phones. They’re diabolical!)

Since then I’ve come to see the cell phone not as a divisive, mind-numbing technological distraction, but more of a life-saving, miraculous, indispensable wonder machine sent from the gods. It has helped me keep my sanity while raising two teenagers like nothing else has, and that includes wine and pastries.

They don’t seem thankful for my regular “checking in” texts and messages, but I know they are.

What other invention can give me peace of mind when I’m waiting to hear if they made it to a friend’s house safely, or help me find them among a crowd of 80,000 at Disneyland? How else would I know that they got out of school early and made a stop at Hot Topic but forgot to text me then, but were safe after all and not laying at the bottom of a well like I had imagined? Cell phone, thy name is sanity.

People like to talk about the "good old days" before cell phones, like it was a good thing! I feel sorry for my parents, not knowing where I was all day and night, unless I happened to find a pay phone to call them. Sometimes they wouldn’t know where I was from the time I left for school in the morning until I came home after doing whatever it was I felt like doing that day. Come to think of it, that was kind of fun and liberating, but there is no way my kids are putting me through that kind of tortuous hell.

I can keep tabs on my kids every second of every day if I want, and the only excuse they have for not being in touch is if they are in a subway tunnel or their phone has run out of power. They don’t seem thankful for my regular “checking in” texts and messages, but I know they are. They also seem to spend an awful lot of time in subway tunnels these days, but I’m sure that is irrelevant.

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It’s true—all of this connectivity might be impinging on their independence just a tiny bit. But consider how a single text can mean the difference between knowing if they’re safe, or wondering if they’re trapped in an elevator at the Staples Center where no one can hear them scream, and once again the cell phone proves itself as the most amazing invention since sliced bread.

What’s so great about sliced bread, anyway? Did it ever help anyone locate their teen at a Lady Gaga concert? Once again, I rest my case.

*This post was not endorsed by either of my teenagers.

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