Tween using mobile phone/cell phone to text. Photo by Carlssa Rogers,

When She Must Have a Phone

Sometimes, holding a limit on something – so long as we are pretty sure the limit is reasonable –  can open up a whole lot of feelings about other things. This is as true of our pre-adolescent and adolescent children as is is of our younger children. In fact, as young people internalise the message that they shouldn’t show their feelings, a well-held limit can provide just the opening. Here’s how it worked for one mother and her daughter:

My 12yo daughter is one of the last of her peers without a phone.  We’ve had a LOT of conversations about screen habits and brain development.  Sometimes my dear daughter (dd) is more accepting of this predicament than at other times.

It’s been harder for me, too, because as I allow her more and more independence, I want it to be easier to keep in touch with her from afar.  I think my dd “senses” that my resolve on this issue is wavering and this has led to more pushing for the phone.  Sometimes this pushing is a convivial discussion about what she’ll get once we allow it, but as often as not it turns into the “phone whine”- a seemingly endless verbal dissatisfaction with the unfairness of it all– all of her friends have phones, they have since fifth grade, etc.  When the “phone whine” really turns up, I’ve wondered if it isn’t really about something more.

I know that a lot of her friends use their phones for social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and I began to suspect that part of her anxiety over not having a phone might be the result of feeling left out of connections other kids were having.  In fact, that seemed to something she had a lot of feelings about, period – being left out of potential social connections.

I decided to be really clear about the phone limit so she could really feel her feelings over being left out in this way.  I told her,

“I know you want a phone.  I’m not getting you one.”

“But why?!  Don’t you trust me?”

“I trust you, honey.”

“But all my friends have one!”

“I know.”

“When will you give me one?!”

“I don’t know yet, honey.”

As she got angrier, I did my best (and was pretty successful!) to keep calm and hold my limit.  After going back and forth between her insistence and my resolve, she finally broke into big tears and told me I just wasn’t fair.  I told her I knew it felt that way and stayed as close to her as I could while she cried.  After a little while, she softened and eased into my arms and cried with me.

I try not to say much when Staylistening so she has the ability to work through whatever issue is coming up for her without having to think about my words, too.  But this time, I just a hunch that it would help things to make a gentle observation about what I thought the “real” underlying issue was. So I told her, “It’s hard to be in middle school,” and she cried with renewed enthusiasm.  I stayed with her until she was finished.

After she finished, she seemed more relaxed.  I was so grateful that holding that limit gave her a space to cry about her anxiety associated with the stress of fitting-in in middle school.  She hasn’t asked for a phone since that conversation, but I look forward to crossing that bridge with her when the time is right.

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© 2018 by Madeleine Winter.


The image above is Tween Cell Texting by Carlssa Rogers CCBY2.0.