Thirteen-year-old Malia Obama has had a cell phone since she was 12, but mom and dad have imposed a number of rules about technology that some might find Tiger Mom-ish in this day and age. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are standing firm on their “no phone until at least 12 years old” rule, so their 11-year-old daughter Sasha has another year before she even has the pleasure of trying to bat her eyelashes into bent rules. (Every daddy’s girl knows how to do this.)
The other Obama household tech rules are: no cell phones at all during the week, no Facebook until 17 years old and no television or computer use during the week unless it’s for homework. And for the cell phone, Malia got a few days worth of lectures about safety from Mama Obama before she got a phone in her hand and all of her contacts were vetted through the Secret Service a.k.a. Daddy Obama’s best baby sitters.
For parents who do not have the luxury of having armed security protecting their children from online and offline dangers, cell phones and social media dip into both blessing and curse territory.
Like Michelle Obama told Malia, cell phones are a way for friends (known or unknown to the parents) to directly contact kids. That makes for a situation that’s ripe for those “bad influences” to seep in without said bad seed actually stepping a toe into the child’s home. On the other hand, a cellphone is a powerful tool for keeping track of a child and offers a safety net should they need to call for help.
When you were little, moms said “be home before the street lights come on.” Today it’s more like “ text me as soon as you get there and you better answer your phone whenever I call you.” It’s actually a bit more terrifying to know that your parents have the ability to contact you at anytime no matter where you are. Nothing can ruin a moment better than seeing your mom’s name pop up on your phone when you’re about to do something that’s less than brilliant. Plus, there are numerous products out there for parents to literally track their child’s location via GPS technology.
A spring 2012 Pew Research Center Study called “Teens, Smartphones and Texting” found that while teens of all races and ethnicities are frequent cell phone users, black teens are particularly high-volume users. White teens in the study averaged sending or receiving 149 texts per day and black teens send or receive 186 text messages per day. Additionally, a staggering 90 percent of the teens in the study who had smarthphones had used their phones to access the internet in the previous 30 days.
As for social media, black people run Twitter. Okay, black people do not literally run Twitter, but blacks do use Twitter at a higher rate than other races. Black teenagers in particular seem to have a lock on trending topics on Twitter. Going on Twitter on any given evening will offer a glimpse into what is popular at that second (literally) in the black teen online world.
Teens have been slowly drifting away from Facebook for a while, but it is still a major social hub of online activity and many families use it to keep tabs on the younger generation. Knowing that grandma is watching is a good incentive to not use a status message for expressing hormonal moods. Then again, it’s also a good incentive to start another account under a different name.
There are huge pluses and minuses when it comes to cell phones and online use and the Obamas are taking no chances. What do you think is the appropriate age to have a cell phone?
Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope