First it was the front teeth–the loss of which everyone knows launches a “little kid” into Big Kid, followed by numerous milestones that come far quicker than any of the old ones we used to anticipate. Picture books fold into chapter books, Stride Rites into Doc Martens, play dates into hangouts.
Middle school is, though, by far the biggest change for us, welcoming a whole new world of topics I used to categorize in the “Thank God we don’t have to think about that right now” folder. Thankfully, Brett’s done this before, although I remind him “not with a girl” which puts a little twist in our parenting responsibilities (as would a boy if he had only experienced girls). One of these new “Big Kid” experiences though–introducing a phone–has gone far more smoothly than I anticipated. In fact, it’s brought some unexpected perks.
We gave Lainey her first phone at the beginning of the school year mainly to give her a communication tool being that she was going from the bubble of a well-connected elementary school where I picked her up, dropped her off and always knew where she was and who she was interacting with, to a large middle school and, for the first time, a bus ride to and from school. It felt a little bit like opening Pandora’s Box because I’m well aware of the problems phones can create from safety issues to distraction and less connecting with the real world, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised how great this new milestone has gone. A few observations:
Be a Responsible Parent
We properly prepped for this transition. You wouldn’t hand over keys to a new car to your kid without driver education, ground rules and continued communication about how the car is being used. Likewise, we’ve had to do the same about introducing a phone and staying on top of how and when it’s being used. We have a “no social media” rule until we feel it’s appropriate (and thankfully, she has no interest right now), and we use the Our Pact app to manage screen time (recommended to us from my friend Nici–it’s amazing!) Most important, I feel more responsible to model how I use my own phone now that I have a daughter with one, and I’ve been challenged many times to make sure I’m modeling responsible screen use and talking about it frequently with her.
The best perk, by far, has been the connectivity she has with her friends. This is especially great for a shy kid. There are homework help text loops, friend group encouragement threads (this was the sweetest thing to witness the first week of middle school when everyone was helping each other adjust) and lots of FaceTime chats with her best friend who moved to Chicago over the summer. It’s also less pressure on me to have to arrange everything when they want to get together. We continue to talk about important social phone rules–how not to leave anyone out, how tone can’t always be felt through texts, how not to read into silly things like someone not texting back and how everything we put into the universe–including our texts and silly GIFs–represent who we are. And yes, “in real life” connection is ALWAYS the best way to connect with someone. But the phone has been a really great tool for connection with some sweet friends she might otherwise lose touch with in a bigger middle school setting.
A Window to the Future
One thing I didn’t anticipate is how much fun it would be to text my own kid and hear back from her. It’s like getting to see a different side of her–a more grown-up version and a window into the future of the funny things we will tell each other. I love getting texts from her when she’s on the bus, and sometimes she’ll send me something funny or tell me something that might be a little easier to text than say out loud. The other morning, she got on the bus after a hustled morning that didn’t go as I had hoped, and it felt so good to be able to text her while she was on her way to school and tell her that I loved her, knew she’d do great on that test and that we’d do something special when she got home. And, Lord have Mercy, is it ever nice when we split up in Target to text her and tell her to meet me at the checkout rather than search every aisle for 20 minutes until I find her.
As soon as my family found out Lainey had her own phone, they all wanted her number. She always knew cousins and aunts and uncles loved her, but it’s so nice for her to have her own way of hearing from them. My family is so great at rallying–texting good luck on test days, sending pictures to stay connected, reaching out simply to say I love you. I’ve done the same for my nieces and cousins and love staying connected with them through text threads; it’s so nice to have Lainey join the club.
This new milestone is definitely a learning opportunity, but one we take great responsibility for. Have you introduced a phone to your kids yet? Learned anything important? Regrets, lessons learned? Have a great phone resource or screen time story to share? Do tell!