I went there

“Mom, when will I get a cell phone? When I turn nine?”

I fought the urge to laugh and covered my hysteria with a short cough. “Um…no,” I replied as I steered my (smokin’ hot) minivan onto the highway.

“Oh. Well, when I’m ten? Eleven? Twelve? THIRTEEN?”

With each age his eyes grew wider and more horrified. It was like he saw a future of torture before him. And me? I grew more amused. Why the obsession with a cell phone? The child has no one to call…

Honey, I don’t really know when we will get you your first cell phone, but it won’t be for a long time. Maybe when you turn sixteen and start driving, but before then you just don’t need one.”

“What?! No! But, Mom, all my friends have cell phones and it’s embarassing that I don’t. It’s cool to have a cell phone.”

*sigh* I had no idea that this argument would crop up so early. I thought I had a few more years before I had to answer the all-my-friends-have-something-so-why-can’t-I battle. So I took a deep breath and glanced in the rear view mirror at the child who is just being a child. A normal child who sees and wants and desires and has to reconcile those desires with a wisdom that hasn’t yet developed.

“Well, babe, a cell phone just isn’t necessary at your age. If you need to call anyone, you can use my phone.”

“But what about an iPhone?” he asked. “Can I get one of those?”

“Honey, I don’t even have an iPhone,” I replied with a laugh.

“Well…” the wheels turn, “how about I get an iPod touch? That way I can play games but it’s not really a phone, but I could pretend it was a phone when I’m around my friends.”

Ah, consumerism. You are a wily beast.

“Well, that’s probably not going to happen for awhile, either, babe. I’m sorry.”

His face fell and he looked down at his hands resting in his lap. “Why?” he asked. “I just don’t understand why?”

So I went there. I went back to Africa, to the sights and the sounds and the smells and I decided to take all three kids with me.

“Do you know that most of the children I met in Africa don’t have a television? They don’t have iPads, or iPods, or cell phones or Nintendo Ds’s or even computers. They don’t have LEGO’S or a room full of toys to play with or shelves full of books to read.”

Sloan looked up at me with curious eyes. He has always been so sensitive to the plight of the those who are less fortunate. Currently, he has a piggy bank full of money that he hasn’t yet spent because he wants to give it to the poor. Like all of us who are conscious and aware, he wars with the longing to have more stuff, yet simultaneously knows there are people who don’t have enough.

He’s trying to reconcile at eight what most of us never come to grips with as adults.

“The money that we would spend on a cell phone could be used to feed an entire family in Africa for a long time,” I said and he nodded his head.

“Yeah,” he said with a resigned sigh.

I smiled and looked at him again. “I understand how you feel, buddy. There are things I want that I won’t get for a long time either.”

He grinned back at me. “It’s okay,” he said. “I would rather help poor people anyway.”

And that was the end of the cell phone conversation. For now, anyway. I expect it will crop up again sometime and there will be other wants that pop in here and there, but my prayer for him (for all three kids) and for myself is that we’ll always remember.

I don’t want my children to live under a banner of guilt every time they get a new toy or gadget. I myself don’t want to live under that banner. Coming home, I wondered if I’d be frustrated or annoyed with all the “stuff” around me, but really? I’m not. We live differently here. We live in houses and we drive cars and we watch TV and we eat out.

There’s nothing bad about those things. In fact, they are quite good and enjoyable.

But I don’t want to be consumed by them and by God if I’m not going to work hard to make sure my kids aren’t consumed by them either. Rejoice in privileges, don’t take advantage of them. And yeah…it’s okay to remember from time to time the lessons learned in Africa

How do you protect your children from the monster that is consumerism?


  1. In the year since our Jamaica trip, I’ve finally come to the realization that we really WILL struggle to reconcile that desire for more with the knowledge of what is better. It will be with us as long as we wear flesh. But I sometimes think that having so much is the best way to keep remembering, because if I had nothing I would only desire more and never think of who had less.

  2. I am guilty of letting my kids have phones. When I dropped my landline a couple of years ago, we had one cell phone that stayed at the house so the kids could call me if I wasn’t there. Then Nathan started going to friends houses more often, so I just ended up letting both kids have their own. Nathan’s 12 (13 in July big gulp!!) and Rachel is 10. They are staying home all day by themselves this summer for the first time, but I’m less than 5 minutes away.
    And I guess I should go ahead and admit they have iPhones (and so do I) LOL Rachel’s phone was a hand me down and Nathan earned the money to buy his. They mow during April-Octoberish to pay for their data plans and rake leaves and other bigger jobs during the other 6 months. I figure it’s a fair trade. 🙂
    Otherwise, we are not big on stuff. I don’t think it’s something we really struggle with a lot. Definitely at times, but my kids are used to being told no or wait until your birthday/Christmas etc.

    • No guilt, Tracy. In your case phones are more of a luxury, not a necessity. Every family has different needs. For us, a cell phone for the kids is not really necessary. I’m not sure what age it will be. We will just play it by ear. 🙂

  3. You handled that spectacularly!! As for the whole cell phone plea…my rule was “Until you’re old enough to go places without an adult, you don’t need a phone.” So when my oldest went into 6th grade and was staying after school for clubs/sports and being dropped off at soccer practice…we finally gave in with lots of stipulations. Granted there was still adult supervision, but I wasn’t necessarily going to be able to get in touch with her coach or teachers. Phone is turned off at 9pm and all of my calls/texts are to be returned in a timely manner. Good luck!!! I’m still fighting the good fight with my 10 year old.

    • That’s a great rule of thumb to know when to get phones. I was really unsure of when we would walk down that road. I just have no idea when a phone becomes a necessity over a luxury. 🙂

  4. Need vs want! It is just tough….and made tougher by where we live! We bought our boys their first phones when they “graduated” from 8th grade. It was just a basic model. They have now moved on to smart phones but payed for them themselves and pay for the data plan too.

    But it doesn’t end with phones….

    Looking for a challenging read about this concept? …… “7: The mutiny against Excess” by Jen Hatmaker.

  5. Sean Cooper says

    I don’t want to throw a wrench into your line of reasoning, but I feel compelled to note that if you get that MacBook when the school deals come around, you could get a free iPod touch for Sloan:) Apple usually has back-to-school specials that include a printer and iPod.

    • Um…when I told Sloan that I wanted some things that I would have to wait for, the Macbook was totally what I was thinking about. 🙂 Trying to scrounge up some money asap so I can get one of those deals. 😉

      • What are iPod touches good for anyway? Aren’t they essentially a small iPad?

        • Sean Cooper says

          They are exactly like a small iPad but cheaper (or free with the back-to-school promos in the fall).

  6. This is a conversation we have had as we want to take on another sponsored
    Child. We often talk about how choosing one thing means we can’t choose something else to spend our money on. It’s hard and some days very frustratingconversationa to have. Your 8 yr old sounds a lot like mine. He ‘gets’ it and is very sensitive towards poverty. I love listening to Him pray faithfully for our Compassiin kids. You are setting a beautiful example for our children 😉