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No, Your First Grader Probably Isn’t Ready for a Cell Phone.

Fatherly's resident parenting expert talks about how to know when your kid is ready for a cell, and how to fess up to infidelity.

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“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.

 

Hey,

So I really need help. My old took my kids from me and for the last three weeks I’ve been doing everything she asked but I messed up. I’ve been drinking and slept with three women. They are all telling me they are pregnant but I only really like one. Another is really good friends with the mother or my kids. I don’t want to lose my kids. I have two-year-old twin boys and a daughter who is nine. Please tell me how to fix this. How do I explain it to her? I know she will take my kids from me if she finds out.

Josh,
The Internet

*

Hey, Josh. This is a tough one, but you acknowledge that you messed up and need help, so hopefully, you’re feeling receptive for some tough love. Because frankly, what I’m going to suggest will probably sting a bit. But redemption requires a little pain.

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The most obvious first step you’ll need to take is to quit drinking. The fact you called it out as one of the reasons you slept around is a pretty clear indication that booze is a problem in your life. I get it. We all need coping mechanisms, but yours is not helping you cope. So, ditch it.

Will it be difficult? Yeah. And it’ll be tough to do all other things you need to do when you’re sober. But if you want to be a good dad for your kids and be in their orbit, you’ll need a clear head on your shoulders. There will be resources in your area. Alcoholics Anonymous is one, but that route isn’t always necessary. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration hotline at 1-800-662-4357 to get information about treatment centers near you, even if you don’t happen to have insurance or are underinsured.

The second thing you’re going to do is fess up to the mother of your children. You need to tell her what’s going on. You need to explain how terrified you are of losing your kids. And you need to ask what you have to do to make amends. You’ll also need to do this with as much honesty and as little blame as possible. This conversation will likely go better if you have proof that you’ve quit drinking and are getting help. It’s a good sign that you are going to try.

After you’ve talked with the mother of your kids you need to speak to the women who are pregnant to find out what they need from you for support. It literally does not matter at all whether you “really like” all of them or not. You liked them enough to sleep with them and your responsibility to them did not end when you left the bedroom. Whatever they need from you, you are going to do your best to accomplish, with the caveat that they need to understand you also have to be a father to the children you already have.

Finally, Josh, you need to find a counselor who can help you sort through the emotions of your situation and get grip on some life skills. You’re going to need to become incredibly organized, maintain employment and, generally, not think of yourself for quite a while. And that’s going to be hard. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, in fact. But it sounds like putting others’ need before your own might be a really healthy move and ultimately fulfilling. The other path is simply pain and disorder.

I have faith you can do this, Josh, and I truly hope it works out for you, for the sake of you and your family.

 

Fatherly,

My daughter is in first grade and she claims there are children from her class who have their own cell phones. Of course she wants one too. That seems insane to me. What’s the right time to give a kid a cell phone, anyway?

Marcus
Des Moines, Iowa

*

Like you, Marcus, I am flummoxed by the thought of what a 1st Grader could possibly need a cell phone for. Are they Snapchatting with Elmo? Are they as glued as I am to Google News and Twitter for the dank memes and documentation of the pending apocalypse? All of that seems highly unlikely. Still, every kid is different — including yours — which complicates the answer to your question.

The fact is that there are no hard and fast rules as to when a kid should be able to get their hands on their first cell phone. Kids mature at different ages. And there are quite possibly some incredibly sophisticated first graders who are mature enough to be responsible with a cell phone. Still the watch-words here are “responsibility” and “maturity”, which form the basis for a set of parameters that will help you figure out if your kid is ready — hopefully sometime in the future.

First off, you need to consider how your kid treats all the other expensive technology she has. Does she have a kid tablet that she just leaves around? A gaming system that she throws when she’s frustrated? Does she put them back in the right place and carry them appropriately? You’re not going to give a kid a cell phone if they will ultimately lose or ruin it.

Next, you’ll want to talk to your daughter about why she wants the cell phone. There actually might be some really great reasons why: like being able to call her grandmother or keeping in contact with you when you’re at work. But it’s more likely she’ll want it for games and socializing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You probably use your phone the same way. The important part is that you ask why and address issues like status should they come up.

Finally, you have to make sure your daughter is ready to follow a strict set of rules about how, when and why she can use her cell phone. There are plenty of technology contracts online that will help you lay down the law. And there are some incredible monitoring tools to make sure the law is followed.

In the end, the choice really is up to you (and her mother). But it’s best if the decision process is transparent and inclusive, rather than giving a flat out no. It will help everyone when the question comes up again next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. And so on.

 

Fatherly,

My son is having a really hard time focusing on his work in third grade. It’s driving his teacher crazy. At home he’s pretty scattered but the behavior is pretty manageable. His teacher asked his mom and I if we ever evaluated him for ADHD. Should we be worried? How would we know if he had it?

Devin
Casper, Wyoming

*

Something you should know right off the bat, Devin: Third grade boys have a hard time concentrating. That’s just the way it is. And some find it harder to concentrate than others. Does that mean your kid doesn’t have ADHD? No. But also, try not to worry too much.

This isn’t to say your son’s teacher’s concern isn’t valid. In fact, it might be. Depending on their experience, they’ve probably seen many third grade boys come through their class, so it important to keep an open mind.

ADHD is typified by impulsivity, an inability to regulate alertness and emotion, and a tendency to move quickly from one thing to another without any seeming rhyme or reason. Another way to think of this latter quality is “non-linear thinking,” which isn’t so much a bad way to think as it is simply a different way to think.

That said, without the proper support, children with ADHD may struggle. So it’s important that they do receive a proper diagnosis. That diagnosis can help your son receive the structural support he needs in the classroom. It can also motivate you to help him find organizational methods and mindfulness techniques that will help him manage any symptoms he might have.
It’s important to understand that ADHD might feel like a stigma, but in fact, it can be a valuable tool. There are hundreds of entrepreneurs that have used ADHD’s non-linear thinking qualities to become wildly successful. Richard Branson of Virgin is a prime example.

Are you the dad of the next Richard Branson? Who’s to say. But a professional diagnosis and a commitment to support him may go a long way in making your sons life easier.