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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

June 21, 2009

Luv U! CU L8er

It’s a new era in our household: Caroline has a cell phone.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were a relatively gadget-free family. Sure, my husband and I had cell phones, but they were oldschool, not good for much more than making and getting calls.

Then, about two and a half years ago, we acquired our first iPod — Caroline’s. Then a Nintendo DS (also Caroline’s. Is there a trend?)

Now we have three iPods, two DS units, and three cell phones among the four of us.

I never thought I’d see a need for an 11- year-old to have her own phone. Truth be told, I never saw all that much reason for me to have one — until it became indispensable and the phone number I routinely give out to people who really need to reach me.

But as Caroline has gotten older, she’s away from home without us more often. Since our carpool buddy graduated, she will be the oldest kid we’re picking up after school. And she’s old enough to keep an eye on Frank for a few minutes at a time.

So now she has a phone that we can call when traffic backs up and we’re going to be a few minutes late picking her up, or when we need her to pick something up or bring something home.

On a few occasions, I’ve been happy for her to have my phone when she’s out, so I know I can reach her if I need to, and, more important, so she can reach me.

When I was her age, I had more freedom to roam than she does. I could head out of the house in the summer with only the vaguest indication of where I would be, and not return for hours. But I always knew that if I wanted to call home, all I needed was a quarter to use the nearest pay phone. They were everywhere: at the movie theater (with lines of kids waiting to call for a ride when their movies ended), in fast-food restaurants, at drugstores and gas stations, and sometimes just on random street corners.

Now try finding a working pay phone. They are few and far between, and chances are, if you can find one that works, it will cost more than a quarter.

So as she gets more freedom, little by little, I think we also need to give her the means to keep in touch, to call if she needs help.

Of course, that’s not exactly why she wanted a cell phone. She wanted to be able to call her friends, many of whom already had phones, without asking to use mine all the time.

Did I say call? I think I mean text. In her first three days of having the phone, texts have outnumbered calls by about three to one. That older kid we carpooled with? One month, she sent and received 9,000 text messages. And she wasn’t allowed to have the phone on in school.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].