To Touch or not to Touch?: That is the Question

My soon-to-be 6th grade son will attend the school that is  — literally — in my backyard. I’m not kidding. If you stand in my kitchen and look outside, it’s right there: A two-story brick building, designed to look like a dairy farm. If I were a better golfer, I could hit it with my 7 iron. My husband can probably hit it with his sand wedge; it’s that close.

People have warned me that my child will have “no social life” if he doesn’t have a cell phone with a texting plan because kids these days only communicate via text. I am inclined to pshaw this argument because I truly believe that if someone wants to hang out with my son, that kid will resort to (gasp) calling him on our land-line. Yes, that child might have to talk to an adult for a second or two, but it’s my understanding that I’m kinda okay to talk to, so, until I hear otherwise, I’m not worrying about that.

I’ve also been given the “safety” argument from practically everyone, as if having this device will somehow make him safer. I am fortunate to live in somewhat of an old-fashioned neighborhood where people look out for each others’ kids a little bit. If my son can’t get into our house – which would be really a rare instance because he knows the code to our keypad and has the key to the inside door in his back-pack –  he has a Plan B, a Plan C and a Plan D with regard to which neighbors’ homes he might go. He doesn’t need to call me at the point of the problem. He can try to solve his problem and call me when he gets to his destination and let me know where he is. I try to follow the “safety” argument. I get the idea that if your kid is out riding a bike and she falls or her tire pops or the chain fell off, well . . . I suppose a cell phone would be nice so she could call you and say, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up,” or “My bike is busted,” but assuming there was no real injury – wouldn’t you just want her to get up all by herself, brush herself off, and push the bike home? Because I’m thinking that’s when kids feel a kind of strength, a kind of confidence in handling a problem themselves – without the adult swooping in for the rescue. And if my kid is in THAT bad of shape, somebody, please . . .  call an ambulance. Oh, and I feel compelled to remind you — the school is about 75 yards away. Maybe. How much trouble can he get into between here and there?

Currently, my son and I have an understanding. I don’t want to be the crazy mother out there screaming his name at 7 o’clock when it is time to eat dinner, so he tells me where he is going and if he changes location, he asks politely to use the telephone to call me. This system works beautifully. (For now.) I know where he is; he doesn’t need a cell phone. And I don’t have to be attached to my technology either, waiting for a bing or a ping.

My son’s 11th birthday is fast approaching. He has not asked for a cell phone, but he has asked for an iPod Touch. In my mind, this device brings its own set of problems. It’s expensive. It requires Wi-Fi to send text — which is not always available. I worry less about his social life than about his grammar deteriorating with all the stoooopid abbreviations. He is only just beginning to learn the nuances of conventional grammar, and studies suggest texting interferes with all of that. Texting will also open him up to the not-so wonderful world of cyber-bullying. On the other hand, having an iPod Touch would hold all his music and his old first generation Nano has long been maxed out.

image from google.com

It is the only thing he wants for his birthday.

Still, it seems premature. He’s only 11.

I know adults don’t always want to blab with the chatty parents who are hosting the sleepover, that it is easier to text

im outside

than to get out of the car and go inside and get the child. Isn’t that the real reason we give our children devices with texting plans? For our convenience? To me, it seems like an inconvenience. I simply don’t want to be that attached to my phone. And what is he really getting: a fancy iPod with the ability to play games? Well, he can do that on the computer. And I can set limits on the computer. Right now, when he’s on for an hour, the computer gives him a warning at the “15 minutes remaining” mark and again at the “one minute remaining” mark and then it logs him off. I don’t have the ability to do that with a portable device. (Do I?) What types of rules do people have in place for these things?

Somebody help me out. What is my problem? Am I making much ado about nothing?  What rules have you put in place? What has (or hasn’t) worked for you? What should we expect if we get him one of these gadgets?

35 responses to “To Touch or not to Touch?: That is the Question

  1. I don’t have kids so I have no specific solutions to offer you. BUT you did touch on something here…problem solving, or rather giving kids the opportunity to problem solve. Brilliant!

    At this point I think kids must have computer skills and its almost necessary to have computer access at home — and like you said the controls parents can use online are pretty good (like the timer thing— maybe i could use that for my own time online…..). But, cell phones? I am not convinced these are a necessity in life. More of a distraction if you ask me.

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  2. You’re right. A voice of sanity at last. Stick to your guns.
    http://www.blackwatertown.wordpress.com

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  3. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh……my 13 year had a mobile (or cell as you call it there in USA) but a skateboarding incident rendered it useless when he landed on it whlilst it was in his pocket!!! For the last five months he has been phone free….and it’s wonderful!!! He has had to learn to be responsible enough to call me from his friends’ houses…..and yes…..I walk up to the door to meet parents or they come in to chat to me!! No re-charging costs….and when he goes to bed….I KNOW he is now sleeping….not sneaking in txts to friends and what not!!! He is a wonderful speller as opposed to his older sister who writes in txt-ese as a matter of course now. HOLD OUT AS LONG AS YOU CAN!!!!!! The simpler, technology free way of llife is the best way to go!!!

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    • See, you have touched upon many of the things my husband and I have been thinking about. No matter what, the technology will not be charging in his room at night. It would be downstairs with everyone else’s technology. So that everyone is sleeping when everyone is supposed to be sleeping. Maybe we should just get him a better iPod. Don’t those have a few games on them, too?

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  4. Holy cow, you worry too much! If your child is a responsible kid and you are aware and involved an iTouch and/or phone should be no problem. My kids have both. 11 &13. There is no doubt text and cell is the chosen manner of communication. We discussed the potential problems with texting. And even worse sexting. I also peek in on the texts and discuss them with my kids if they get out of hand.

    Relax. This stuff not leading to jail. Wait till he wants a Facebook page!

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    • Jeff, are you reading what other people say? This is not about worry. I’m not worried. But I have NO ISSUES right now. None. I don’t want to start having them. I know my son will become obsessed with this technology. I know that he will want to use it all the time. I don’t want to have to “police” his texts. I don’t want to have to worry about sexting. So just because you gave you kids one doesn’t mean I should.

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  5. hmm…get him the iPod Touch. It will make him happy and he’s good kid. Do it for the music….

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    • Why wouldn’t I just get him a better iPod? I am not trying to punish him, but I’m not sure this is the best way to go either. I’m back and forth with it. I just don’t want to get him something that will then become an item we war over.

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      • I would suggest getting him a whole different present if you don’t want to get the one he really wants– speaking from experience (my own, not my kid’s) there is nothing worse that getting the version of what you want that someone else thinks you should have. It turns a present into a disappointment.

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  6. Joanne Serling Fisher

    I wish I never bought one for my son! He begged, reasoned and cajoled and I said okay, buy it with your own money. Now he’s obsessed with it. We only let him use it 30 minutes a day but I feel like its a distraction even when he’s not using it . He’s always talking about the apps he wants and music he wants to download and I HATE it. I realize your son is older so maybe it’s more of a must have item (my son is 9) but I wish I had held off longer.

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    • Distraction. That’s what I am feeling. He is JUST starting middle school. He will have so much going on. New locker. New people. New homework. The iPod Touch seems like such a distraction, and an expensive one at that. And, like you said, he will be endlessly talking about apps, the ones he wants to get, blah…blah…blah. I hate when he does that now, and he doesn’t even have one. The fact that you say you HATE IT in caps, helps me understand how much discord this device has caused in your house. I’m really torn.

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  7. I’d stick to your really good and well balanced attitude. Don’t let other parents ever attempt to change your mind about something. It is probably because you set an standard of excellence that others can’t maintain. My kids survived to adulthood without cell phones. I don’t know how but they did.

    THAT BEING SAID…

    Get him the Touch! It is a wonderful tool. Not only is it great for games, apps and the periodic text it can be a study tool as well. There are many apps that focus on particular topics, hobbies as well as sports interests. He’d also be able to further explore and expand his personal interests by subscribing to appropriate podcasts and blogs. Of course all of this would occur with parental supervision. You could also easily share calendars with each other. This will help you, hubby and kid keep up with day to day stuff. For those times when its hurry up then wait forever, having the touch will keep him entertained so you can be entertained with your handheld.

    Buy the warranty dealio he is a kid and as we know crap happens.

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  8. Seems to me you are worrying about having to worry. (here is where I would put the smiley face If I knew how.) Get it for him. Life is a distraction. Might as well get him used to figuring it all out sooner rather than later. And everything heather says in her second paragraph is correct. Of course fher first paragraph is wrong because I am always right and you should listen to me

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  9. Melissa Sorbello

    Renee, I completely agree with you! I am not a cell phone girl. Those were intended for emergencies and the usage is now out of control. I think you are right on with what your feelings are. Stick with them and don’t cave because society tells you to. There is no way I would get that for my son and he is almost 20 years old. I say get him the better ipod and that is it period. I like your values; they sound like mine and my husbands.

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  10. Oh man, this debate is tough. I don’t even know that I have a firm stance on it yet. Honestly, I think texting sucks. Ideally, I’d love if we just picked up the phone and called people like we used to. But do I text? Yes. Why? I don’t even know. I try not to do it every 5 minutes like some of these crazy kids. I think that’s very unnecessary for so many reasons. I’m actually appalled at the fact that high school, even college kids, text everything and practically never even dial an actual #. I think there is something wrong with that.

    I do fear though, that eventually everyone is going to need to get on the texting train or be left behind. It might be like the people several years back who refused to get a cell phone. I mean, who doesn’t have one? Or, even more recently, people who refused to join Facebook. I can’t even think of anyone who doesn’t have it. As much as I don’t like it, texting may end up as something you just have to start doing in order to be socially “with it”. Am I in left field here?

    Also, if you get him an i-pod touch, I don’t believe that has a texting plan. That would be an i-phone. I think you’d be safe with the touch.

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  11. First and foremost it is about your kid and not just the device. Yes the arguments can go both ways, all questions posed can, hence the idea of the debate…alas the blog was created. Now back to topic at hand.

    So he asked for the iPod Touch and when you asked him why did his reasoning make sense? Do you believe that those are the only reasons or do you think he has a hidden agenda?

    You sound like you have a great open relationship with you son and the communications have been right out there, so why should this be any different?
    Based on you conversation with him, make your decision. If you get him the Touch, and then determine it is being used in a manner that is not was agreed upon, than the privilege is lost. Especially if he has invested in this purchase, there can be multiple lessons learned. Recognize that at first it will be a fantastic novelty and give him a little more freedom on the time constraints, but otherwise it can be one more piece of his growing up and growing responsibility.

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  12. Alison Saunders

    I am soooooooooo delighted to hear an American say all the things you said in this post. I thought it was a cultural difference between the UK and the US. In the UK it is the parents who arrange the sleepovers, the days out even the play dates, but from the first day we arrived here in the USA all the arrangements have been made between the kids with not a parent in sight. I even had a child ask if I could look after him for two days as his mother was going out of town. I said yes but I want your mother to call first. I never heard from her and he didn’t come over again!! Go figure. I just thought “yet another rude American” sorry! But your blog has given me hope that not all Americans give their kids the latest cell phone, i-pod, wii, etc, etc using the excuse “it’s for their safety” rather than admitting that they can’t be bothered to engage with other adults.

    When I was growing up in the UK we would leave the house in the morning and only come home later in the day when it was getting dark or we were hungry and in many places in the UK that still happens, though not in the cites. Our parents had no idea where we were or what we were doing and the number of accidents that happened was negligible. We all survived and so will you son. The skills he will learn from having to remember to let you know where he is (consideration for others) and talking to adults (brilliant communication skills) will not only last him a life time but will make him a better person than the rest of the kids he will associate with – so well done you.

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  13. You always make the right decision, so I will be curious how you handle this in your imaginative parenting style! With that said, we bought our son the touch for his 11th birthday. He was shocked and surprised and loved it!! He went to camp without it this summer and it has not left MY handbag. I love having it!!! Maybe I should get an iPhone…

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  14. I recently received an iPod Touch as a freebie when we bought our daughter a laptop for college. Granted I have been bed-bound (post-op surgery) since I started using it, but I have to admit the device is totally addicting. It is a hand-held version of everything electronic all-in-one, with the exception of a phone. (If you can text on it, I haven’t figured it out yet). If my kids were 11 when it was invented, I’m sure they would have wanted one. Adrienne did have one until our recent vacation, when it was stolen. There are many valid arguments on both sides of the question. I would just point out that a hand-held device seems a lot more difficult to monitor if you’re concerned about the amount of time it’s being used and/or what it’s being used for. With Wi-Fi you can get “apps,” and they cost money (some are free), along with iTunes, movies, etc. BTW, I am amazed at the number of “adult-oriented apps” available–I don’t know if you can block that.

    P.S. If you’re not ready to buy yet, I bet if you wait until the holidays you will be able to save some money, too. (I saved $60.00 at BestBuy on our daughter’s’s iPod Touch last year.) Maybe a Hannukkah gift instead?

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  15. Ok…as the long time user of an iPod touch, I want to go over some of the actual features and uses of this device. If you have an iPhone, you probably know most of this.

    First of all, there’s music. Depending on what capacity you buy, it may or may not hold as much as the young lad’s current iPod. I have a 64GB touch which currently contains more than 5,000 songs, 2 full length movies, plenty of podcasts, and several gigs worth of apps, and I still have a great deal of space left over. I will be adding more music after I clean up my collection a bit. Currently, I think the touch also comes in 32 and 16GB sizes. I don’t think they make the 8GB anymore, but I could be wrong.

    Probably the main appeal of the touch is the apps. There are all kinds of apps, from useful, to silly, to garbage. There are business apps, social networking apps, news, sports and weather apps, entrainment apps (youtube comes preinstalled, for example), and of course, game apps. There are even educational apps.

    Some apps are free and some are expensive. Almost all the apps I have were free. Deciding whether he can download his own apps is, I would imagine, an important consideration. My kids do not have their own touches, but they do love to play the games on mine. Better games exist on a Ninetndo DS though.

    It’s rumored that the next generation touch will have a front and back facing camera, similar to the current iPhone. I’m not sure when that will be available though. Currently, there is no camera on the touch

    They are somewhat fragile. A case is necessary. Michael Hess’s company, Skooba http://www.skoobadesign.com/, sells some nice ones. Also, the ear buds that come with it aren’t comfortable for everyone, so a nice cheap pair of Skull Candy headphones can be a viable alternative. It also requires software updates from time to time and backing up and syncing can take time.

    I can get wi-fi most places I go, so texting is usually not a problem with the touch. (I do have a cell phone though.) There probably isn’t wi-fi available at school though. Setting up a free Google Voice account is an easy way to provide texting, and the ability for you to check on what is being texted, if you feel that monitoring is necessary.

    I’m not advocating for or against just trying to lay out the facts. I’m happy to answer any other questions you have.

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  16. Simple Solution. Try it! Give it to him! Set rules and see how it is working out! Monitor a time table or devise for time use. Check it out and see how he is using his time on it. If he doesn’t stick to the rules take it away. Explain it was a privilege to use this technology and he needs to be a bit older to understand the proper use of his Touch. He should not become dependent or obsess over it. (It should be used for a good purpose.) I believe he is worthy for a try. I would honor his wish. Responsibility will be required. I am cheering that your son will make you proud and use this lovely piece of technology with maturity.

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  17. A hot topic, for sure!
    1. Hold out for a few more years, mom! You can do it, and so can he! Maybe – age 14. Then, he can mow lawns for extra cash to help pay for the texting minutes/plan or whatever.
    2. My 12 year old has wanted a cell phone for 2 years, and we keep saying no. If she’s after school for an undetermined time (play practice, for example) I leave her MY cell phone, and she can call me when it’s time to get picked up. Or, she has a multitude of cell phones to borrow for a phone call home. Since all of her FRIENDS have a cell phone (evil glower directed to mom).
    3. Since she has no cell phone, her friends know that they can call her here at home, and maybe after an hour or two on the phone, mom will say “Time to wrap it up.” No biggie.
    4. Friends can also email her, since she just got an email account and we – gasp – took the big step of allowing her, with many restrictions/supervisions on our part, to get a facebook account – and she can chat “live” with her friends that way, too.
    5. REAL friends will not let lack of a cell phone stand in the way of friendship/communication. Most schools do not allow them in the classroom anyway – So kids will resort to note passing (remember that archaic form of communication?) or waiting until there’s a break in the classroom action (or not! ha)
    6. “If little Jimmy wanted to jump off the bridge, I suppose you’d want to do that, too?”
    7. “Because I said no.”
    8. “Because I said so.”
    9. You are not making a big deal about holding off on the cell phone.
    10. Sorry – I know absolutely nothing about the I-pod, let alone the I-pod touch. I probably didn’t even spell it correctly.
    11. texting requires a 12-page/2-columns per page of acronym study – I haven’t figured it out yet.

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  18. Renee u no I doesn’t care bout no gramer.

    Be cool. Get the i touch and surprise him with a phone!!!!

    And while you are at it get yourself the iPad a truly awesome and completely unnecessary gadget.

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  19. First-time commenter here. My husband and I gave our 9- and 11-year old daughters 8 gig iPod Touches for Christmas last year. After the initial novelty wore off, they settled down to using them somewhat sporadically. If we download a new game, they’ll play it for a couple of days and then go back to their computer or video games. We did download the Ping app that allows texting between iPhones & Touches but they rarely use it because they only have 1 friend who also has an Touch. My 11-year old wants a different texting app that will allow her to text her friends who have phones (not too many of those) but we have not downloaded one because I don’t want her texting for the same reasons you listed. She doesn’t bug us about it (she knows better by now!) but in any case I don’t think she would text as much as she thinks she would. The Touch is linked to my husband’s iTunes account. You need to enter your account password to download anything (even free apps) so we can control what goes onto their devices. And if we think that playing after bedtime is an issue, then we just collect the Touches. You can also delete an app from the Touch (you still retain ownership in your iTunes account) so if you are having an overuse issue, you could just delete the app that is causing the problem. You can reinstall it without having to pay for it again.

    I also got a Touch for Christmas (the 32-gig Touch) and really like it. I keep it in my purse and can whip it out to play some short puzzle games when I have to wait for appointments, etc. There are some great organizing and scheduling apps. I also have a cookbook on there as well as the Kindle application for book downloads – although I find it annoying to read on such a small screen, it’s nice to have just in case I’m stranded and don’t have anything to do. These were nice to have on hand when we were on vacation this summer – a good and extremely portable distraction on airplane or tedious car rides. I do not regret that we got these for our girls and much prefer that they have these instead of phones. They get much more use out of these than they would a phone plus there are no monthly bills!

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  20. As the head teacher of a school 3-11 I was amazed that lots of the children had mobiles. I didn’t have one until a few years ago! I agree with you that safety arrangements need to include a person rather than a text. It has changed the nature of social interaction. I think it would have been better if I had not got one!! So, you stick to your guns!

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  21. I didn’t even think about the wi-fi aspect! That’s a really good argument. My 12-year-old is honest and says “I know I’ll just lose” whatever techno device we give him, so we are able to avoid the whole situation. That being said, we do have an extra line on our plan (a business plan), and when we have a situation where he will need to get in touch and we don’t know whether he will have any other means, we get out the extra phone and send it with him. It works for now! (And I agree with jfb57–social interaction is completely different. But that’s another story…)

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  22. Renee,

    I completely agree with your own inclinations and intuitions, and with Melissa Sorbello’s comment:

    “[Cell phone] usage is now out of control. I think you are right on with what your feelings are. Stick with them and don’t cave because society tells you to… I like your values; they sound like mine and my husbands.”

    I believe we need to make our parenting and life decisions based on intentional, analytical thinking, and deliberate decision-making, not just because “everyone’s doing it”. I don’t see any worry at all in your blog (I’d ignore Jeff’s blatant pressuring), just a devoted parent making a well-thought out decision for her child. Quite evidently, as we see from many of the comments on this blog, these latest gadgets have major (not so positive) effects on children including fostering addictive behavior, disruption of proper grammar development, and distraction from focusing on healthy activities like reading, interpersonal conversations, etc.

    It seems that your son will understand your rationale for whatever you decide, and already has the self-confidence to withstand whatever peer pressure he may experience as a result.

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  23. Renee,

    My son received his first cell phone three years ago when he was in 11th grade. He didn’t miss a thing by not having one until then.

    Many younger children see them as toys and use them that way.

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  24. “Stick to your guns” as it was said earlier. I concur. My 9 year old daughter has asked when she is getting one. I can only answer vaguely at this point because I feel she is way to young to have her own. I think when I finally do get her one, it will be a pay by the month jobber where it cuts off once she uses her minutes and text amount. I was brought up to earn the things I wanted (true wants), so I will probably make her earn it as well. I. Am. So. Mean.🙂

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  25. carl d'agostino

    I never had one of these. We just yell upstairs or out the back door, hollering down the lane or use the dial one at the post office. Seriously, they seem beneficial avenues of communication and technology application, but for many teens they become the sole reason for living.

    In Miami Dade County probably 75% of children qualify for free lunch/breakfast. Parents have section 8 housing and food stamp cards. I empathize with these very low income people, but seems despite the low income every kid has a cell phone! One can only imagine what the family must sacrifice. How about 4 kids on this trip? These accursed devices have become more vital than oxygen and a contributor to obesity in youth.

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  26. Renee, this is an old blog (obviously!) that I just came across in trying to decide if an Ipod touch will make it under our Christmas tree for my son. I’m curious, what did you decide?

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    • Hi Pam: We decided that we would SPLIT the cost of the iPod. He put in 1/2 of the money and we put in 1/2. That way we felt like he had some “skin in the game.” We made it clear that if he lost it, that was his problem. This arrangement has worked out very well — and it has carried over to other purchases. Like his cellphone which he JUST got two weeks ago. Our son is now in 8th grade and was one of the few kids who didn’t have one. He bought an inexpensive phone and we are paying for the plan.

      Are you thinking about doing the iPod Touch thing? I will say once you do, you have to be prepared to let them go crazy for a while. We wrote up a contract together and we all signed it. He understood going in that he was limited to using it during the weekends and on long trips. He didn’t argue. Now, it isn’t even an issue. He keeps his music on it and has a laptop where he does his homework. He has proved to be a very responsible person, but — again — I believe that this is because he has had to watch his own resources be drained to get what he wants. Sometimes he has decided that what he THOUGHT he wanted was just not worth it.🙂 Thanks for stopping by! And the great thing about the internet is that our posts stay alive!

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  27. Thanks so much for your posts….I’m thinking/debating the same things for my soon to be 11 yo’s bday on Friday. Love the contract idea!

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