Just wanted to put in a plug for something we’ve used when our kids get to that age when you really don’t want them to have a cell phone, yet they need to be in communication with you: good ‘ol walkie talkies. Not the nerdy, bulky walkie talkies of yesterday– today’s two-way radio can fit in the palm of your hand, and your child’s (and some can clip on bike handlebars, belt loops, etc.).
For as little as $20 a pair, you can give your child some of the freedom that comes with a cell phone, but you don’t have all the “baggage” that comes with one (the cost of the phone, “the plan”, possible higher phone bills, texting, games, etc.) It’s a great after-school communications tool– when we plan ahead, my 12-year-old and I both turn on our walkie talkies when school lets out, and I can remind her to bring certain things home, she can ask me things like “Mom, can I go to a friend’s house after school?” or tell me that she needs to stay for tutoring or a student council meeting.
We’ve also used the walkie-talkies when she wants to bike to meet a friend at a neighborhood park. Safety-wise, I think they’re even better than cell phones. I mean, imagine this: your child is riding his bike to a friend’s house or walking to school and needs to reach you ASAP—it could be he’s fallen and hurt himself, or sees bad weather approaching, or thinks a stranger is following him…so he gets out his cell phone. First, he has to get it out of “locked” mode, then get to the “dialer” menu or contacts list, then click on your number, and then wait while the phone rings. It may roll to voicemail if another call has come in. Or, as soon as you pick up, the call might be magically “dropped” thanks to your wonderful cell phone reception, so he has to start all over again. Meanwhile, that leg is bleeding…or that stranger is getting closer. With walkie-talkies, you turn on yours when your child sets out on his journey, and your child turns on his, and you make sure they are both on the same channel. Then if he needs to reach you, he just presses a button and you’re talking to each other. Instantly. And chances are you won’t get bad reception, because there are many different kinds of walkie talkies with different ranges (i.e. how far one can be from the other and still hear the other clearly) so you can find one that best fits your needs.
For sure, even as sleek and tiny as walkie talkies can now be, they can’t begin to compete with a cell phone in the area of “coolness”– but my kids have been willing to put that aside in exchange for the freedoms we’ve granted if they use them.
(To see the latest in walkie talkies, check out this link or find them at any Radio Shack store, Target, Academy Sports, or other stores that sell electronics or sporting goods.)