In a few months, my son turns eleven. Like most kids his age, he dreams of owning an iPhone. Unlike many kids his age, he doesn’t have one. No iPhone, no smartphone, no phone of any kind. But before you start to feel bad for him, don’t. He has a laptop, an iPad, access to the family’s Netflix account and the double helix numerology of the WiFi password memorized. He’s not a kid who’s tech deprived, on any level.
So far we’ve drawn a virtual line in the sand regarding a smartphone. There are a lot of reasons why, but for this post I’ll just mention it’s another screen I need to monitor, another device I need to limit, another charger I need to worry about. Most of all, he doesn’t need one. To be fair, my son is not obsessed by it, he doesn’t harass us. Sometimes if a birthday or Christmas is approaching it will go on the wish list.
Our family tradition is that your Christmas wish list can contain anything and everything, from fanciful to practical to all the adjectives in between. Each year my son adds a puppy…and an iPhone(insert new model # here) to his list. And each year there is a tiny flicker of hope that Santa may see fit to drop a puppy…or an iPhone(insert new model # here) down the chimney.
Ironically, it’s that very flicker of hope which has reinforced our decision not to get him a phone. Because frankly, if the kid still (sort of, mostly, kind of) believes in Santa Claus, he’s really not old enough to be doing anything which requires him to have a phone on him at all times.
I call it The Santa Clause.
The Santa Clause condition works like this: If you still believe in Santa, your play dates should probably still be about Lego and trampolines and playing outside, about talking or imagining or rainbow looms.
If you still believe in Santa, you should probably still be communicating with and to your friends without the need for instant messaging, Snapchat, iChat, youChat, WeAllChat. Especially at school.
If you still believe in Santa, your bedtime should most definitely be before that of your parents.
If you still believe in Santa, most of the books you read should be paper, most of the writing you do should be with a pencil, and most of the projects you do should still involve glue and poster board and shoebox dioramas.
If you still believe in Santa, you probably shouldn’t be on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.
If you still believe in Santa, you likely don’t possess the judgement to decide what is or isn’t going to leave a lasting digital footprint.
If you still believe in Santa, you don’t need to watch R rated movies or television shows which regularly feature the word ‘f*ck. You don’t need to listen to artists who sing about rape or songs which glamorize sexist ideals. Actually that last one applies to all of us.
If you still believe in Santa Claus you shouldn’t feel the need to pepper your language with curse words. Santa sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when your mouth’s been bad or good, so be good for fuck’s sake.
If you still believe in Santa, you probably shouldn’t be baring your belly button and your underwear should be safely tucked away. There is something very wrong with the idea of hoping Santa brings you a thong.
The Santa Clause is simply a litmus test, it doesn’t work for everyone. Obviously some kids are ready for independence earlier than others, for more mature content. Some kids do actually have a need for a cell phone–or at least more of a need–than most. If your child is old enough to be dating and sexting, if he or she is spending a lot of time by themselves in non school related activities, they could probably do with a phone. That said, they probably also stopped believing in Father Christmas a while ago too.
As parents we have to use common sense and judgement. We all long for our children to stay innocent, to keep believing in Santa Claus. We go to great lengths to keep them sheltered from the worst of things. Yet at the same time we easily and eagerly give them the very tools which allow them instant access to the very things we are trying to shield them from. We want them to believe in Santa Claus but are surprised when we find them watching a YouTube video about Santa Claws and his Evil Elves on their iPhone (insert model # here).
The funny thing is, my nearly eleven year old is starting to broaden his horizons. He is, to quote myself, exercising those downy wings of his and learning to fly. He’s cycling to and from school, to football practice, to a friend’s house on his own. He’s able to stay by himself for an hour or so if I need to run out. So in the drawer, waiting to be charged, is a phone. Just a regular old Nokia, no screen. No games or data plan involved. A dumb phone, I guess.
I have a sneaking suspicion this is the year the Santa Clause will cease to be effective for a lot of things. Probably Santa Claus too.