As my husband deteriorated from his chronic illness, the first thing we did was get him a cell phone. This goes back many, many years. It was before cell phones for individual use was common. It was a safety feature promoted by the many organizations that dealt with chronic illness. In this way, as he became more dependent and could do less for himself, he could call and get help. If he ran out of gas (because he had that habit of letting the tank go to empty) and was unable to walk to a gas station, he could call, explain and probably get someone to deliver the gas. If his wheelchair got a flat tire, he could get help without being dependent on a bystander. We felt that the cell phone gave him back some of the independence that the illness had taken away.
Today, everyone has a cell phone. Even very young children can have their own phone so that they can be connected to their parents. Most people feel it is a safety feature that allows the children to contact their parents, at any time, in a moment. And though this is true, I wonder if the cell phone in the hands of the independent does just the reverse of what it did for my husband. For him, because he was dependent, it gave him more independence. However, for our children, isn’t the cell phone taking away the independence they should be developing?
In my travels, I have eavesdropped on many cell phone calls. This was not done deliberately.
Many people are in the habit of talking on their cells, loudly in all public places, as if there is no one in the crowd who can hear them. Further, they talk about any subject. A sense of privacy and priority seems totally lost. It is even very easy to think the person standing next to you is talking to you, since the cell phone has now become almost invisible. More then once I have said, “excuse me?” to the person next to me, mistakenly thinking he was talking to me when he was on the phone. This seems to be especially true of the younger cell phone users, and I have noticed a trend that concerns me. Being seconds away from parents’ advice is helpful, but calling with every minor problem to ask parents what to do, may make children very dependent and interferes with their developing any problem solving skills.
On a recent plane trip that was riddled with inconveniences, I was seated next to a group of teens. At every stage, they called home for advice. The plane was having problems and was going to take off late. Then they were going to give us another plane. The teens called home asking what they should do at every new development of the travel problem. Could their parent call the people who were meeting them and tell them they’d be late? Should they wait on the plane or in the terminal? If they went into the terminal, they had to be back in 45 minutes, so could Mom call them in 40 minutes and remind them, as they had no wristwatch? What should they do with their carry-on? Was it safe to leave it on the plane if they went into the terminal?
Finally, after many delays, we were given another plane and this one did take off. But, when we landed, their luggage wasn’t with us. No surprise to me, the cell phone was whipped out, and the parents were asked what to do about the problem. Whom to speak to? What to say? What should they wear if the suitcases didn’t come? How would they get their clothes? Etc. Etc. I wondered what would have happened if they didn’t have cell phones. Perhaps they would have learned how to solve these problems themselves.
When I think of cell phones and dependence, I wonder if it is the cell phone that is making our children dependent, or is it us? That awful expression comes to mind. It’s not guns that kill − it’s people who do the killing.
How children use their cell phones is up to the parents. I guess, whether cell phones are used for dependence or not, is up to the people who use them and the rules for their use set down by the person paying the bill − the parents. How does your child use his cell phone? Do you need to say, “I think you can figure out what to do by yourself. I have faith in your judgment” and let them learn by experience? Or do we want them used as much as a tool of dependence, just as they are used as a tool for independence for those that are chronically ill?
You can reach me at or through the Jewish Press by regular mail.Ann Novick
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