“Mom, so, how old do you think I need to be to get a phone? Like one that is 100% mine?”
I knew the question had been brewing. It seemed that every week my daughter shared about another friend who had a smartphone – the fancy, expensive kind of phones … better ones than my own! I heard about the amazing cases they had chosen and the new apps they were trying out. And the question lingered…
When would our family introduce smart phones with internet access and all the cool apps?
Up to this point, both of my older kids had phones, but they were old hand me downs that could only access the internet while on wi-fi while at home. They were strictly for specific apps, Audible and Spotify, which are both family accounts – and not available for unlimited use. The kids literally have to check them out from me when they want to listen to a book or groove to their favorite playlists.
All that to say, we have a phone plan in place and it does not include a smart phone upgrade.
I think my daughter sensed my pending “no”. But I’m sure she felt like the constant update of her friend’s phone upgrades, who are all from wonderful families, might begin to plant a seed. One that would grow to a “yes, you too can join your friends with a personalized phone case and the newest apps.” But I’m holding strong – no, no smart phones, not for a long, long time.
The Social Media Problem
My daughter, and her brothers after her, will not be entering the world of fancy phones. It is not just because of the expense (but, holy moly, that sure is a consideration), but more so, because of social media.
This is not my just being an overprotective parent; or one who doesn’t believe in the fun of filters or the importance of online interactions. To be perfectly honest, I keep in touch with many of my friends and family members through social media apps, but I am an adult.
Although I am not perfect when it comes to keeping social media boundaries, I do have a fully developed sense of self and the wherewithal to shut it down when the toxicity of screen time becomes too much for my mental well-being.
Saying “no way” to my daughter’s request for free reign of a phone isn’t merely an “I’m a grown up and you’re a kid” conversation. There is a massive amount of data assuring me that social media at her age is damaging: a risk I am not willing to let her take. And since I’m mom, and she doesn’t have the income to facilitate the purchase or maintenance of a phone, she will have to adjust. Her time will come. But that time is not in middle school. Or high school for that matter.
But what are the risks? It can’t really be that bad, can it? Well, these things which have been cited as related to social media definitely fall into the “bad” category for me:
Decline of mental wellbeing and overall happiness
Loss of sleep
Depression and anxiety
If you don’t believe me, listen to Collin Kartchner’s 5 minute September 2019 TedX Talk, “Can flip phones end our social media addiction” which received a standing ovation. Or briefly scroll his Instagram which is dedicated to spreading the message that both kids and parents need to say no to smartphones.
Kartchner, a dad and social media activist, is the founder of Save the Kids and its accompanying #savethekids and #savetheparents hashtag. He has been named a “warrior for our children” and daily shares testimonies from tweens, teens, and parents who have suffered the devastating effects of phone use and social media.
Dive into the research and you will find that there really is no middle ground. When it comes to smartphones our kids can’t have their cake and eat it too. And, saying yes initially – even with control of passwords, daily checks, constant conversations about appropriate online behavior – and then retracting that yes when the pitfalls become too great, is not a battlefield I want to enter. Nor is it a risk I want my children encountering when I can protect them and preserve their childhood.In fact, as I read and learn, I am darn near ready to shut down my own smart phone access. It’s not just kids who suffer from the constant barrage of social media exposure. Sign me up for a flip phone, I think I’m going to lead this family precedence as the primary role model.