I gave my five-year-old an iPhone … but let me explain

When I upgraded to my iPhone 6 earlier this year, I gave my five-year-old my old iPhone 4S … and I’ve been feeling judged about it ever since.

Every time my son announces his new toy in public, I feel like interjecting with “Um, hi, I am NOT that parent! Can I explain?”

I was NOT going to be the parent that would let my child have a freaking iPhone in elementary school. I’m still not, I swear. Kind of.

Yes, he has my old iPhone, but there’s a list of rules longer than the terms and conditions of iOS 9. For example, no, we don’t pay for a cellular plan. That means he can’t make any phone calls — except 9-1-1, because I think that works on all phones even if they don’t have service.

We also don’t pay for data, of course, so his “phone” can only access the internet here at home on the WiFi. (If it’s not usable as a phone, can you really call it an iPhone? It’s really a glorified iPod.)

I have parental controls activated so he can’t download anything — not even free or educational apps — without me approving the transaction. He also can’t access any websites except PBS and other extremely G-rated content.

So what does he use it for?

Mainly “texting” us and his grandparents (well, iMessaging to other Apple devices) which is helping him work on his spelling. He’s addicted to FaceTime (video chat). 

Sometimes he’ll plug in headphones and listen to music while he’s building LEGO creations, and occasionally he’ll get permission to watch Netflix on his phone. The camera roll is filled with pictures of toys, and he’s getting better about keeping his hand steady so some of them are pretty good.

 The iPhone is always left in the kitchen to charge, he must ask to use it, and he can’t FaceTime anyone with checking with us first (uh, after that one time he tried to FaceTime his buddy Josiah at 7 a.m. and his mom answered — sorry, Jenn). The phone’s been taken away for a few days as a punishment, but he often goes a week at a time forgetting to even ask for it. 

Our three-year-old daughter begged for her own phone so we eventually handed over a really old iPod touch. She can “text” emojis to us, make calls using FaceTime, listen to music and play a few preschool apps.

She thinks it’s hilarious to run to another level and start video-chatting with us like she’s away on vacation. She also takes a lot of selfies and sends them to our family members.

As much as I’d like my kids to have devices that allowed me to track them relentlessly with apps — I’m nosy, plus it would be fun — it’s not necessary at the ages of nearly-four and nearly-six. I know exactly where they are at all times, anyway, and usually I’m with them when they’re not in school. 

Our son has only left the house with his phone once, when he and our daughter went down the street to play at a friend’s. I told him to “text me” when they arrived, even though I was watching from the window the entire time. Sure enough, he enlisted the household’s resident techie — the 10-year-old — and she signed him into the family’s WiFi so he could iMessage me. 

When I got the message (“Hi mom”) I was so proud. He wrote me again, asking for me to please bring down their snowpants (I did) and I messaged him back an hour later requesting that he and his sister come home for dinner. Pizza emojis helped pass along the message, I think. 

At first, it felt ridiculous to hand my old iPhone — a real, working phone that had served me well right up to the moment I upgraded — over to my five-year-old. It still does, in a way. But I’m sure my mom felt a little ridiculous giving me a (used) laptop when I was eight years old, and I became so comfortable on computers that I was coding as a tween. 

It would be silly to pretend that our kids aren’t around screens every single day, or to act like an unserviced iPhone is all that different from the iPad they use to watch cartoons while they eat breakfast.

Technology isn’t going anywhere, and the fact that my kids are embracing it to connect with our family makes me proud.

Also, they’re learning to take non-blurry photos, and that’s a useful skill.

One Comment on “I gave my five-year-old an iPhone … but let me explain

  1. Pingback: How our kids call and text without a phone plan – Heather's Handmade Life

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