Armed and Dangerous

Here’s my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal. Armed? My 11-year-old son now has a cell phone. Dangerous? He’s a “tween.”

Armed and Dangerous

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

It’s official. My 11-year-old son is a “tween” – that age between the compliant, easy going elementary school kid and the surly, you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about teenager. And while I may or may not be “the worst dad ever,” these fleeting glimpses of future attitude are reassuring in one respect: the developmental trajectory is perfectly normal.

The other sure sign that there’s no turning back is that Ben now has a cell phone. It was a combination birthday/elementary school graduation present; both events took place in June. And when I see him sprawled over a wingback chair, limbs splayed in all directions, ear buds in place, fingers rapidly texting a friend, I just shake my head. I can’t possibly be old enough to have brought such a creature into the world, can I?

My wife Bryna and I actually put off the cell phone purchase longer than many parents. Most of Ben’s friends already had them by the time he got his. Which led to circular conversations like this:

Ben: “When can I get a cell phone?”
Me: “Why do you need one?”
Ben: “Because all of my friends have them.”
Me: “Good. Then you can borrow one of theirs.”
Ben: “What if I’m out with my friends and I need you to pick me up?”
Me: “Then you can borrow one of theirs.”
Ben: “Daaaaaad!”

Cell phones in the hands of kids have been called the world’s longest umbilical cords. And there is something comforting in the knowledge that we can always be in touch if need be. Cell coverage can be a giant safety net for children taking those first, tentative steps toward independence. Yes, technology can be abused and it can quickly get kids into all sorts of trouble. And, no, Ben’s phone does not have internet access.

You could argue that no child needs a cell phone; that we all survived childhood without them; that the only “apps” we ever knew were found in churches and were spelled “apse.” That they should be out playing kickball and riding bikes (without helmets!) rather than sitting around hunched over small electronic devices. But even as the technology evolves this is all ultimately about social interaction. Our children are learning to navigate the same social complexities and nuances we had to learn, albeit in new ways. The least we can do is support them.

As our children grow up in a plugged-in, hyper-connected world, I hope to convey that their relationship with God is the ultimate form of connectivity. When it comes to the relational nature of prayer, God’s network never goes down; it never crashes; there are no “dead zones.” The coverage is complete, the access is total, the connection is never broken. As long as the divine remains part of their larger social network during these years, I might even spring for the unlimited text plan.

One of the main reasons I had children in the first place was for the free at-home tech support. As much as I use technology in my daily life and ministry – I e-mail and text and Facebook and Twitter and blog – I’m no match for the generational intuition of my children. When I recently upgraded to a new BlackBerry and couldn’t figure out how to download the Facebook application, I gave the phone to Ben who pulled it up before I could even say the words “status update.” The only cost to me? A shrug, an eye roll, and a look that said “could you possibly be any lamer, Dad?” Which, in my book, is a small price to pay.

Ben’s proud of his new phone; he has been using it appropriately and loves being in contact with his friends on a regular basis. But the best part about it? If he misbehaves I can always take it away.


2 Comments on “Armed and Dangerous”

  1. Sarah Brockmann says:

    you definitely want unlimited texting. Seriously. Get it now before you get the first 800 phone bill. I speak here from experience…

  2. Finally catching up with all the great posts I missed while moving to your hometown and this is truly a great one. Locate me in time: I begged my mother for a Princess phone in my room. Begging ignored and requests denied. I spent adolescence having super confidential conversations on the wall phone in our kitchen. I spent several years discussing this in therapy.

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