When Gracie set out for 6th grade and her dad and I decided to gift her with a cell phone, we set quite a few rules and, like half the world, made her sign a cell phone contract. We did it knowing that even as Gracie was tripping over herself agreeing to these rules, eventually her tweenagery brain would fail to think through some consequences, and that part of leaning about responsibility means learning some things the hard way.
So I was a little bit unsurprised when Gracie messed up big time.
One of the rules involved in Gracie being the proud owner of a cell phone was that she could only text the parentals and her older stepsister. It allowed for greater management of what Gracie needed to do (stay late after school, check in from a friend’s house, check on obligations and calendars from the other parent’s house, keep up with school reminders…) and had the bonus of extra bonding because apparently tweens gotta text, even it means being chatty with “just” mom and dad.
Things were going well. Gracie is ultra-responsible and was handling this new privilege with so much grace and wherewithall that I felt a little foolish having doubted giving it to her. In fact, things were going to well that when her aunts asked if they could have texting privileges with the Gracie-girl, I thought it would be a good idea to widen Gracie’s circle a little. So I broached the question with her dad: let Gracie text with all of her aunts and uncles and grandparents. And cousins, if she wanted. It would be a good way to help her stay in touch with cousins she doesn’t see that often, and definitely her aunties back east. Her dad agreed, but then It Happened.
“She’s texting her bff anyway.”
And that’s when I discovered that knowing your kid is going to mess up is different than it actually happening.
I confronted Gracie, who immediately started crying and said that her friend had gotten her number and she didn’t know how to tell her that she wasn’t allowed, and she didn’t text her that often. I made Gracie hand over the phone and I scrolled through her texts. Nothing. Oh, because Gracie had been erasing them so she wouldn’t get caught. I reminded her that her dad could – and would – be checking the cell phone records to see what was said…was there anything else she wanted to tell me? And that’s how I found out that she was texting five other friends, too. I felt like a fool for trying to extend Gracie’s circle while all the while she was abusing my trust, and I told her so. She took it pretty hard, unused to being the one letting someone down. I finished my lecture and moved into recovery mode, reminding Gracie that it’s not the only time she’s going to mess up – although I really hope there aren’t many more times. It was up to her to show us again that she could be trusted. And that she wouldn’t have her phone for a week other than for emergencies. Oh, and she had to tell her friends that she couldn’t text any more, although they were welcome to call.
And that was that. Gracie dutifully handed over the phone each day after school. She apologized and didn’t complain about her punishment. Now all I have to do is figure out what happens next. During the untangling of events and discussions of repercussions, Gracie’s dad mentioned he thought by Gracie’s birthday (in two months), she should be able to start texting friends. I was aiming more for junior high in the fall. I don’t think any 6th grader needs to be face-down in her phone all the time. But maybe letting her learn how to be responsible in a smaller pond with people she knows for the last month of school isn’t the worst idea.
I don’t know. I don’t know what I think. We’ll definitely talk a lot more about it, and see how Miss Gracie does between now and then. Obviously my baby girl is just as human as the rest of us and needs some practice as this adulting thing. And who can really fault her? I’m not so sure I know anyone who really has it down and we’ve been doing it for ever so much longer.