The Playroom: Cell phones

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

When I was 12, phone calls were placed on push button or rotary dial phones with cords that stretched across the kitchen. You called your friends at their house, and they talked to you in their kitchen.

Now my daughter is 12, and that’s no longer how phones work. The home phone has become redundant and most of the calls between households are placed between cell phones. It seems fair that my daughter should have the same ability to call her friends to go to the pool that I once did, establishing important friendships for turbulent years.

The decision to give my daughter her own cell phone was a big one in our family and I am still conflicted about a 12-year-old having their own phone. After we purchased the plan, bought the phone, and I resigned myself to the decision, I realized that though I thought I was ready, I wasn’t.

I was not prepared for what the phone would do to my child. The phone has created a total transformation. I now introduce her, “This is my daughter, Sarah, and her cell phone.” The phone is always with her. Even when it isn’t chirping, buzzing or beeping, even when she isn’t texting, she is reading the screen.

Riding to swim team practice she was once again reading her cell phone screen, so I questioned her, “What do you do staring at that screen all the time?”

She answered me, “Google facts.”

And then she asked me, “Mom, did you know an elephant weighs less than a Blue Whale’s tongue?

“Ants don’t breathe and they never sleep,” she continued.

I’m annoyed that this is how she is spending time, so when I answer I’m snarky. “Well, that’s why ants are so productive then. You know the laundry is put away in every ant colony on Earth.”


She then tells me, “Some 13-year-old in New Jersey got arrested for excessive farting.”

As her little brother doubles over with laughter in the back seat, sputtering something about excessive farting, I say, “I don’t think that’s true. Just because you read it on some fact app doesn’t mean it’s true.”

“Well, some of it’s true. You believe some of it, right?”

“I believe the one about the whale’s tongue and the elephant, but not the one about the farting.”

At the same time the phone has pulled her into its screen, giving her access to the world outside our home and pulling her away from us, it has also increased my interactions with her, opening up windows to conversations about internet safety, cyber-bullying, pornography and not believing everything you read. Some of the conversations I don’t want to have with a 12-year-old, but it’s time. The phone has forced me to accept that there is an app for everything and my daughter knows how to find them.

I’m not sure I want her to be 12. I enjoy listening to her play dolls with her little sister, watching her draw on the front walk with chalk on a summer afternoon. But it’s time for rites of passage that will take her past drawing mermaids on the front walk, and one of them happens to be her own cell phone.

And it is true that there are good things about letting your kid have their own phone, safety being at the top of the list, and not all of our cell phone generated conversations are about excessive farting.

“Be safe.”
“Okay, Mom.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too.”


Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at