Care and Feeding

Should We Get Our 8-Year-Old a Cellphone?

Does she need it for emergencies? To fit in socially?

A young girl stares happily at her cellphone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ranta Images/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 8-year-old wants a cellphone. I think this is nuts; my wife says it’ll help her keep in touch with her friends after school, also in case of emergencies. She has agreed to abide by your ruling either way.

—It’s Nuts, Right?

Dear INR,

Do not give your 8-year-old a cellphone. My apologies to your wife. You can get her one of those phones designed for kids to literally call one number: yours. For emergencies. I promise this will not result in social ruination and your daughter eventually becoming a person who dresses up her cats in doll clothes and silently waltzes around the apartment holding them, wishing her father had not stunted her emotional and social growth.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 8 years old and has a friend on his gymnastics team who is almost 12. They see each other three days a week, and this kid is pushing into our lives in a million ways. I’m not crazy about the age difference, but from what I gather, he’s a rather young 12, with no friends at school.

This boy was eager to befriend my son and he seems nice enough—but now that we’ve seen him a few times, he’s making me nuts. I get annoyed because the boy is always asking to come over. Usually the answer is no, because, thankfully, we’re pretty busy. I’ve conceded and taken them on two or three play dates, and I’m learning how pushy he is. He says, “I want to go to your house after” or “Can I sleep over tonight?”

He often texts my phone (my 8-year-old does not have one) to ask for play dates, and it’s making me nuts. He’s incredibly bold—even switching my radio station in the car to his preferred Christian rock without asking. His family has so many children (some foster) that I wonder if his parents are not aware of his ballsy behavior. Yet, I wonder if he gets this behavior from his mother, who was supposed to accompany us on these play dates and then canceled last minute because she was too busy. The kid texted me saying, “My mom can’t go but I can go if you come get me,” and, being a pushover, I did. And got stuck paying for this kid’s admission and food. There are so many other annoying pieces to this friendship that I could go on forever. How do I keep this kid at an arm’s length when I know we will continue to see him so frequently?

—Enough!

Dear Enough!

It’s highly likely that this friendship will drift apart as the age difference becomes more pronounced with the onset of his friend’s puberty, so I wouldn’t worry that this will be your life until he goes away to college.

Don’t be a pushover. Enforce the universally understood rule that the driver gets to pick the music. Say you’re busy. You do not have to respond to text messages from anyone. Decide how many times a month you can handle hanging out with this kid, then hold the line.

It’s never bad to teach children about appropriate boundaries, especially when they are under your supervision. If he oversteps, step him back. He may have issues with social cues; that’s not really important here. Demonstrating and upholding your own good parenting is still the answer. If he asks for a play date, tell him to have his mother call you and you’ll find a good time. If the mom bails on coming, tell her upfront, “I’ll send you a Venmo request for what we spend on Jimmy.”

He doesn’t sound like a bad kid, just a kid who’s pushy and needs a lot of attention in a very busy family. That doesn’t mean he has to take all of your attention, but it does mean it would be kind to do the best you can to support their friendship until it comes to its natural conclusion—but on your own terms.

Also, check in with your son periodically to make sure he’s still having a good time with Jimmy. If Jimmy is wearing you out, he may be wearing out your son as well.

Best of luck!

If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have three kids aged 3, 2, and 7 months. I need help with the 2-year-old. She is always moving, and she requires fairly constant supervision. We make sure to give her one-on-one attention. On weeknights, we take her out for a walk by ourselves after dinner. On weekends, her dad or I will take her out walking multiple times a day to burn energy and give her individual attention. She probably gets more attention than the other two. She is sweet and happy, but draining. You know, a 2-year-old.

The problem comes at mealtimes. When she’s finished with her food or decides she doesn’t want to eat something, or sometimes just because, she throws it. She will throw or drop her spoon, fork, and bowl too. She will even look at us with her food in hand and say, “Throw it?” We respond, “No, we don’t throw food. ” And 50 percent of the time she throws it anyway.

We’ve tried ignoring it, and stern reprimands. We’ve tried picking up the bowl and, in a friendly tone, saying, “Nope, let’s try again! Can you hand me your bowl?” Which she will sometimes do, and sometimes she will just throw it again. We’ve tried removing the tray so there is nothing to throw, but with two other kids eating at the same time, we aren’t always fast enough. And then there’s that whole “but what if she’s still hungry?” complex. I can’t let her out of her chair, because we can’t supervise her, feed the other two, and eat our own dinners at the same time.

I know some of it is that she wants our attention, because the 7-month-old is getting fed, and the 3-year-old has special needs and has to be fed too. But I can’t give her individual attention ALL THE TIME. So what do I do? Is it completely unreasonable for me to expect a 2-year-old to eat dinner without throwing her food?

—I Hate Mopping

Dear I Hate Mopping,

I think you just need to toughen up a little. She sounds like a great kid who has this one annoying thing that you need to cut off before it’s a big annoying thing. When something is thrown, her dinner is over, and she stays in her chair until the rest of you are done eating. If she throws a fit over this, you or your partner can remove her from the room and stay with her until she’s calm. Don’t overthink it, but do be consistent. It is also doing your other children a favor to see that rules are rules and that you will uphold them calmly and coolly and even in the midst of chaos.

Also, 2-year-olds, man. You’ll be OK.

Dear Care and Feeding,

What’s your stance on home birth? I’m pregnant with our first, I’m drawn to the idea, and we’re about 15 minutes away from the nearest hospital. We would use a certified nurse midwife and I’m a young, healthy woman.

—Hospitals Are for Sick People

Dear HAFSP,

This is a question I would rather you ask a doctor (or one of the many CNMs who work out of hospitals), but, having been asked for my opinion, I’ll give it: I would not personally consider having a home birth without first having had a safe, uncomplicated, vaginal delivery in a hospital. My babies have all been caught by hospital midwives—a privilege that varies drastically by region, but a fantastic compromise if you can swing it.

Here’s the thing about 15 minutes. It’s not 15 minutes. It’s your midwife deciding you need to transfer. It’s 15 minutes to get you, in active labor, into the car or ambulance. It’s a 15-minute drive. They can get you a crash C-section in a really remarkable time frame, but it’s never going to be within 15 minutes of peeling into that parking lot. A cord prolapse, a really big postpartum hemorrhage … when things go south, they go fast. Plus, if you’re already in a hospital you are already close to the NICU, which for me is maybe the biggest factor.

That’s my opinion as a person living in the United States. There are countries that offer home birth as an option to low-risk parents as a matter of course and are set up to do so and have much smoother infrastructure in place to make that work. They have great statistics.

If you decide you want to do a home birth (and I’m glad you’re talking to a CNM), ask a million questions. Ask for references, and call them. Ask for the CNM’s transfer-to-hospital rate (and don’t assume a very low transfer rate is a good sign—it can also be a sign of recklessness). Don’t be afraid to transfer.

Now, please ask an OB-GYN. My opinion isn’t worth anything here other than to give you some things to think about.

I wish you the very, very best.

—Nicole

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