Friday, September 12, 2008

When is the right age?

When my son informed me that he wanted a Batman gun for his fifth birthday, I tried to discourage him from choosing such violent gifts. But that was till I discovered that a girl in his daycare centre had been given a mobile phone for hers.

Not any old mobile phone, either, a top of the line model which plays songs, has FM radio and can double up as a camera. A phone I would not buy for myself because I would not want it to be destroyed by my kids flinging it around.

After hearing about that, even an entire Batman kit doesn’t sound as bad any more.

But why does a girl that young need a mobile phone? Ostensibly, it is so the mother can keep tabs on the kid while she is at work. But why get a phone for the kid? A maid puts the kid on the school bus, then picks her up and drops her off at the daycare centre, where she is till she is picked up in the evening. Is it so difficult for the mother to ask the maid to give her a call after dropping the child off and picking her up again?

If the mother wants to hear her daughter’s voice, why can’t she just call up the daycare centre and ask to speak to her child? If the Centre authorities allow the child to carry her own phone, they would definitely not prevent cosy mother-daughter chats on the centre’s phone.

I can perhaps stretch a point and agree that it may be prudent to give a child a phone if the child comes home to an empty house and stays there till the mother returns late in the evening. Even though there would be a landphone at home, a mobile would ensure that the child can be reached even when she has gone down to play.

But when a child is looked after by responsible adults why should the child be given a phone? Even if the system breaks down, and the child is not picked up on time, the mobile phone is not a help. Any child who is calm enough to be able to dial her mother’s number would also be able to climb the seventeen odd steps to reach the daycare centre on her own.

When I asked the mother why she felt her five year old daughter needed a mobile phone, she told me that her daughter was very reserved and that she did not like asking the ladies at the daycare centre for anything. If she was hungry, for instance, she remained hungry till the ladies offered her food. With a mobile phone, she could call up her mother and tell her what she wanted, so the mother could speak to the ladies at the daycare centre and arrange it.

Two months after I had that conversation with the mother, I am yet to understand the psychology behind it. By encouraging your child to come to you with all their petty grievances, are you not fostering their dependence on you?

For a long time, my son did not do potty at the daycare centre because he did not like anyone except his mother cleaning him up. Two accidents later, I managed to convince him not to try holding it till he was home – he still doesn’t like asking the ladies at the daycare centre to clean him up, but he does because he realizes he has to do so.

Though younger than the five-year old with a mobile phone, my son is learning to be far more independent than she is.

I know I cannot indefinitely postpone buying the kids a mobile phone. Once they start using public transport, I will want to be able to get in touch with them whenever I want. But not now.

I am not at all sure what the right age for buying the kids a mobile phone is. But I do know for sure that it is not five.

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