It’s strange how technology manages to create new areas of social confusion and awkwardness — especially when it comes to kids and cell phones.

Dick Thomas Johnson/Flickr

As user upsideup wrote on Mumsnet, she recently ran into a problem regarding cell phones at sleepovers for her 10-year-old daughter. As she explained, her daughter’s friend has slept at their house several times, and the friend’s mom asked that they take the friend’s phone away before bed time.

Though she complied — leaving the phone just outside the bedroom in case the friend needed it — upsideup also mentioned that she prefers her own daughter keep her phone during a sleepover. But that’s not what happened when upsideup’s daughter visited her friend’s house:

The mum took [my daughter’s] ]phone off her at eight last night and put it in her bedroom. [My daughter] did ask if she could keep it turned off in her bag, but she wasn’t allowed. She’s quite anxious about sleepovers and knowing she can text us to come pick her up, etc. without talking to the parents makes her more comfortable. She also does contact us a bit anyway to say goodnight and check when we are picking her up, etc. She also didn’t get her phone back until we picked her up at 11 because she was too nervous to ask for it.

Upsideup mentions that they had been worried not to get a response to their goodnight text, but had assumed their daughter was just having fun. She wrote:

[My daughter] was upset when we picked her up, obviously not to tears or anything, but it did make her feel uncomfortable that someone else took her phone and she wasn’t able to contact us. She wasn’t able to get any sleep because she was worried about it.

Upsideup wants to know whether it’s unreasonable to think that the other parents should have talked to her before taking the phone. She wrote:

The girls are quickly becoming close friends, so its likely [my daughter] will get more sleepover invites. […] How can I tell the mum that I would like [my daughter] to keep her phone?

Dear upsideup,

I think you have to contemplate the fact that your daughter might not be ready for sleepovers yet.

She was sleeping at a (presumably) trusted adult’s house, not scaling the Himalayas or going undercover to catch a drug dealer. It’s not a situation that should require moment-to-moment communication.

If you don’t trust the friend’s parents enough to let them manage their own home and set rules for the children, then your daughter shouldn’t sleep there.

What’s more, if your daughter is too uncomfortable around the parents to even ask for her phone back, then she shouldn’t be in their charge. I get that some children can be intimidated by other adults, but this level of timidity is worrisome.

As a mom who has presided over a few sleepovers myself, I need to know my guests will come to me if there’s a problem or emergency. Not to be unkind, but if someone was too frightened to ask for her phone the next day, I’m not sure I’d want her to stay at my house. I’d be reluctant to host someone so uncomfortable in my home that she can’t communicate her needs.

What’s more, the fact that she couldn’t sleep without constant access to her phone suggests that she’s not prepared to be away from home yet. And that’s okay. There’s no need to rush sleepovers, and she’ll be happier if she’s really ready for them and isn’t filled with these anxieties first.

I don’t know if your daughter is addicted to her cell phone, but I will say that few things are more aggravating than trying to host a group of young children, only to have one of them stuck to her phone. You can make any excuses you want, but it always comes off as rude and antisocial.

I get it. I’m a decrepit fossil tottering toward the grave in my old-timey wheelchair. All the kids have phones nowadays. But I’m not suggesting we heap all the smart phones in the town square and burn them, Savonarola-style. (Actually, I am suggesting that, but I accept this is a lonely, unsympathetic position.) However, I am saying that teaching your daughter to socialize and cope without her phone is a good thing.

There are good reasons for a rule that makes phones off-limits after a certain time. The most practical one, of course, is wanting everyone to quiet down and go to sleep before you lose your damned mind. With young girls, this often requires removing anything electronic or remotely interesting, so that the room resembles a medieval monk’s cell. And you’re still in for another hour of giggling and whispering.

Then there’s the fact that this is the age of social media and cell phone cameras. At 10, your daughter and her friends might not be at the “let’s post embarrassing photos” stage, but that’s just around the corner.

Given that you can’t throw a virtual rock without hitting a virtual megaton of stories about predatory and bullying online behavior, you can’t blame other parents for wanting to keep a very close eye on smart phone use.

Finally, this is their house rule. It’s asking a lot for them to create a special exception for your daughter. Personally, I wouldn’t be thrilled to have that element of constant second-guessing in a guest. My house rules are my house rules, and not up for debate — least of all via a text from my guest to her parents.

Back in the dark ages, when we were forced to spend upwards of 30 seconds dialing and phones were attached to the wall with cords, there was a way to handle things if you were homesick at a sleepover. It was called “talking to the other parent and then maybe calling your mom.” I realize that this is akin to building a log cabin by hand, but I’m pretty sure it still works.

With all that said, there is a compromise that might allay your daughter’s concerns while still respecting the other mom’s rules. Just ask the mom to have your daughter call or text you right before it’s time to give up her phone. Add that your daughter needs to call you in the morning, and request that she tell your daughter when and where to get the phone the next day.

That should be enough to comfort your daughter without inconveniencing the other mom. It might also help wean her of the need to look at her phone as a combination security blanket and umbilical cord, which would also be a good thing.

And don’t worry about whether your daughter can reach you in the middle of the night. I promise you, if it’s urgent, the other mom will find a way to reach you. And if you don’t believe that’s true, then why are you sending your daughter over there to begin with?

Leave a comment

We are excited to announce Dearly has joined forces with Mama’s Uncut. Helping Mom’s across the United States answer questions on life’s big challenges.