- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It’s been a week of rough rides in the minivan. Midwest potholes being what they are, I wish I had a Lunar Roving Vehicle in my garage. Our roads resemble pictures of craters on Mars, or worse, the new federal budget - big, dark and dangerous.

I don’t take my responsibilities in the driver’s seat lightly, so I’ve learned to avoid the unforgiving cavities that have formed beneath the snow all winter, awaiting my aluminum wheels. The potholes I can’t avoid - the ones causing all the rocky rides in my van these days - are the parenting variety.

Being the mother of three teenagers, you might assume that I’m up to my steering wheel in teen angst, anger and rebellion, but I’m not.

No, the one at the heart of all the consternation (hers, not mine) is the 11-year-old - my “tween” - and the issue that has us haggling back and forth in a familiar dance of pleading and denial: cell phones.

Though my husband and I have maxed out our cell phone family plan at five, we’re adamantly opposed to putting a cell phone into the hands of our sixth-grader. We much prefer she hold things that have more value - like, say, a book or a dog leash or a package of magic markers. Or, heaven forbid, a toilet brush.

The point is, we don’t think our daughter’s young life is lacking for want of a cell phone. In fact, we think her life is better without one.

To her credit, most of the time Amy is content to wait out her middle school years sans cell - just as her siblings did - until high school, the time we have deemed appropriate to arm our children with what we consider an electronic tether.

Unfortunately, because of the growing number of parents buying into the cell phone safety myth, Amy is among a shrinking minority.

Statistics vary, but appear to indicate that roughly half of children Amy’s age now own cell phones. By the time she gets to eighth grade, she’ll rightly be able to argue that “everyone” has one.

And the pressure to get phones for our kids is growing, emerging from (big surprise) the mobile phone sector, where industry experts suggest that bringing cell phones into the classroom will help improve the math skills of American school children. No, I’m not kidding.

Back to the van. At issue isn’t the fact that Amy has no phone, but that the friends who have them don’t play or talk to each other any more. They just stand in circles texting. Who? Why, each other, of course. Naturally, my daughter feels left out.

But remember, I’m an experienced driver. Our children have felt left out in the past, for example, when we didn’t allow instant messaging for our eldest daughter, and when the second daughter was invited but not permitted to see PG-13 movies, and when our son claimed his social life would improve with the purchase of an Xbox 360. They all survived.

No, wait - they thrived.

Their disappointment gave way to resignation and eventually they figured out that good friends don’t require a cover charge of gadgetry or access to media. They realized that their time was better spent on a bike or shooting hoops in the driveway or reading a book. The potholes filled in with time and maturity and genuine friendships, and the ride was smooth once more.

Anyone who owns a minivan will tell you the ride gets bumpy from time to time. Then again, negotiating potholes is what minivan drivers do best.

• Visit Marybeth Hicks at www.marybethhicks.com.