A few weeks ago, I had to borrow my daughter’s cell phone to make a call because I’d left mine at home. I thought this was a simple request; she would be at softball practice while I went grocery shopping so she wouldn’t need her phone anyway. After posing the question, I got a serious stare accompanied by the declaration, “My phone is personal, mom”. This one caught me off guard, but not off kilter. I quickly came back with the obvious retort, “It’s not yours until you pay the bill your self. Until then, it’s my phone and I’m letting you use it!” This was followed by a twisted smile, and the handing over of the equipment as she exited the car.

Her possessive statement led me to the next logical thread of questions: What is she hiding? Naughty photos? Boyfriend photos? Texts I shouldn’t read? Girl gossip? What could a 13 year old possibly have in this apparatus that is so “personal”?

Prompted to dig a little more into this mentality, I quickly realized this is a widespread notion among today’s cellular device-carrying teens. Besides the obvious numbers listed under Contacts, there is an enormous amount of other data, music and video which can be stored in a single portable communication contraption and carried with one self at all times eliminating the need for a few old fashion items like: the address book, phone book, family/friends photo album, notes, letters and secret messages between friends.

Let’s discuss some of these cell-phone capabilities to find out how much is stored in those cool mobile phones — and why our teens must have them even while they take a shower!

Photos – Initially, I thought the images stored in young users’ wireless phones were simply that, photos. What I found out, is that they are key moments kids have to carry around to remind each other of the special bond they shared when the photos were taken: BFFs, fun times, places, faces, events, inside jokes. You name it, it’s in that phone somewhere as proof that the adventure took place. These days, most teens are excellent self-photo takers, and have become very comfortable flipping the camera-phone on themselves practically anywhere.

Teens Taking Self Portrait with Camera Phone, © Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X/Corbis, RF, 2, Back view, Boyfriend, Boys, Camera, Camera phone, Cell phone, Couples, Females, Girlfriend, Girls, Human relationships, Males, Outdoors, People, Photographing, Recreation, Sitting, Teenage boy, Teenage girl, Teenager, Telephone, Whites

Another way teens use the camera-phone is as a compact mirror. Just click the camera feature, point it at yourself and groom away!

Texts – As I wrote in a previous post, texting is the way to communicate among teens today. Kids are not simply exchanging information over text messages, but are also using this technology similar to passing notes in class. Remember when you passed notes and then came home to put them in a safe spot because it confirmed that Johnny liked you? Or maybe it just reminded you of the moment you got away with it in class? Some of these notes are stored in the phone and then shared over giggles as the common link between BFFs at school. 

I also discovered a down-side to texting; you can get asked out or dumped by your boyfriend over a text. No more valiant, humbling tell-me-to-my face-you-want-to-go-out/break-up moments. I have a problem with this callouse use of texting and have had my kids be the victims of this desensitizing form of communication. The only solution I see to this, is to talk to the children and tell them they should not do it to others — of course, they’d probably be the minority.

Secret Messages – The pervasive use of texting for the purpose of criticizing someone or avoiding an over-heard conversation such as sleep-over dates to not hurt others feelings is a negative side-effect of texting and cell phones. Not having to talk in front of someone to avoid confronting bad feelings only takes care of the problem at that particular moment. Usually, in what seems like a deliberate attempt to sabotage the secretive nature of texting, teen girls often giggle about their concealed plans at school the next day when they’ll openly discuss the fun they had in front of — or at least within earshot — the un-invited person (so the hurt isn’t avoided after all).


“In middle school, “can you come get me out of this dance” or “can so & so sleepover” is a great way to save face among peers without broadcasting intent or wounding feelings”.  In her excellent article posted on Shaping Youth , Amy Jussel wrote about this and many other aspects of current technology parents have to consider when acquiescing to their teens desire to own a cell phone. My earlier post, Tasteless Texting, is listed on her informative site as a related source too. Thanks Amy!

For now, I’ve decided to not pry too much into my teen’s imagined privacy locked up on her cell phone. But if I’m ever tempted, I found a little gadget called a SIM card that will help me unlock all that ‘personal’ stuff if I need to. It’s comforting to know that technology works both ways, isn’t it?

After a few short inquisitive conversations, I probed both my kids one more time about their reluctance to relinquish the machines and they both had similar replies, “I guess I need to memorize my friends’ phone numbers because if I loose my phone, I wouldn’t know how to reach them!”

A simple statement, really, but yet another reminder of just how dependent this generation has become on technology — and how even memorizing phone numbers has now become old school!


  1. Anonymous says:

    Glad you Tweeted this post.
    I worry most about the social skills that are not being honed because of a dependency on texting, IM'ing and FB chatting.
    My son, to his credit, will talk on the phone with his female friends. A good thing in my opinion. My daughter (who is older and will be exiting the house sooner) rarely talks on the phone. Funny that I am bothered by this! When I was a teen, the joke was that they couldn't get the phone out of my hand–of course it was attached to a wall so I had something to grab onto for support if they tried.
    As we all know it is very easy to misinterpret an email, text or IM. Much better to talk to someone face-to-face or over the phone.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree, but in general this generation is not growing up with telephone or face-to-face etiquette. Though we know things will not go back to the way they were technologically speaking, it is up to us parents to inculcate the value of taking human emotions into consideration to our kids instead of allowing them to hide behind a text, an e-mail of FB.
    I'm glad you're part of the group of socially-conscious parents upholding 'old school' communication among your kids and their peers.

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