SMARTPHONES: Old People (like us) Use Them Too Much, and Kids Shouldn't Have Them!
Recently Emily and I talked about it, and we both agreed that we are looking at our phones too much. Like Pavlov’s dog, we pick up the phone every time we hear the chime of a notification. When we have even 15 seconds of boredom we pick it up and begin scrolling. We look at our phones first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and countless times in-between. We take the phone to the bathroom, carry it from room to room, look at it while others are talking to us, and would feel lost if we forget it when we leave the house.
As repulsive as all this sounds when I actually write it down, I know we aren’t alone. Likely, if you are reading this, you can relate to it and you are probably on your phones too much as well. So we decided to do something about it.
We agreed to go for a week without using our phones, other than for communication (Texting, emailing or talking). You can watch our video from March 23, 2019 to hear us talk about what we learned, but here are the main takeaways:
Breaking habits: The first day or two were the hardest, because it involved changing habits. It was an ingrained habit to pick up the phone at different times of the day: After the alarm goes off in the morning, while dinner is cooking, while brushing teeth, etc. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for these habits to be pushed aside.
We’re Bored: We realized that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be bored. We’re so used to replacing every second of down time with our phones, that it feels strange to not have anything to do. To just be bored for a couple of minutes. This resulted in reading more books, in looking through some old boxes of memories from when we were younger, or in actually doing something useful with our time. Emily had a particularly memorable afternoon one day when after realizing she had “nothing to do”, she simply sat on the front porch in the sunshine with the 2 little girls and watched the Township Road Crew trim trees on our road. The best part is she did it without the distraction of her phone, and simply paid attention to the small details around her. Basically, we were reminded that it’s OK to be bored sometimes.
We Aren’t Missing Much: After our week was done and we got back on our phones, it took about 5 minutes on social media to realize that we missed surprisingly little during the week…. Most of what we read or look at is just not valuable. Worse than that, it can make us feel angry, upset, depressed, or just generally consume us and leave us feeling unsettled. Needless to say, this isn’t healthy. We’re not advocating throwing away your smartphones, but our week away helped put things in perspective and prodded us to make a few changes moving forward to better manage our phone usage. Maybe this will prod you to do something similar, which is a good thing!
Now, on to the hard part…… Your kids should not have a smart-phone!
This may be an unpopular opinion, and I say it very carefully and with fear that it will be taken as judgmental, which is certainly not the purpose. The purpose of this statement is out of genuine concern for kids. Just this past week I’ve heard multiple stories of parents dealing with all kinds of devastating situations brought about at least in part by their kid’s smartphone usage. Bullying, addiction, getting absorbed in online games, forgoing all other hobbies and activities, depression driven by social media usage, sexting, pornography… the list goes on.
Studies show that most kids get their first internet-enabled smartphone by age 10. I can’t begin to express how bad of an idea I think this is. I know parents come up with all sorts of justifications for this, but I’m sorry, they’re wrong. A 10-year-old is simply not capable of handling a smart-phone, and you will regret the decision in the future.
Even secular studies seem to agree that 13 is the earliest that a teen should have a phone, purely for brain development and psychological reasons. I think this is still way too young, but at least we agree that there are problems.
I'm sure there are many of you who may have given your child a smart-phone and didn't have major problems and think I'm misguided or making too big of a deal about this. If so, I'm glad that was your experience, and I don't dispute that there are some children who may handle it properly and not have it create problems in their lives. Your children are the minority. Furthermore, I'm fairly certain that even in the best case scenarios your children see stuff on their phone that you have no idea about, and don't want to even imagine.
I just think about how prevalent and widespread pornography viewing was among my peers when I was a teenager 20+ years ago, and that was when it was still at least somewhat tough to gain access (dial-up internet, one family computer in the house, etc). I cannot imagine what pornography usage must be like today, when it's all available directly on a personal phone. Some current studies suggest that the average age of first exposure to internet pornography is 11! All of this to say, if your teen has a smart-phone and you don't think they have seen pornographic images, you are likely naive.
I'm sure there are parental controls or other safeguards you could put in place, although I'm also pretty sure a teen could find a way around these. You could also have open, honest conversations about these things proactively, which would be healthy and I certainly would encourage. But this still doesn't prevent the viewing of pornography and the damage it can do to your child.
Parents, I think we probably agree that ideally, if it was possible, our kids would be better off without having smart-phones. We also probably agree that in our current world, at some point it does become a necessity for our kids to have one. So the goal should really be to delay this as long as possible. I know that delaying becomes tough because there is enormous peer influence on your children to have a phone. No kid wants to be the only one in their 8th grade class that doesn't have a phone, and they will badger you relentlessly about this until you would gladly give them anything they ask as long as they stop asking. I get it. I know this is tough. I also fully admit that as a homeschooling family we have an advantage in this area, which has helped to keep the pressure off so far. If you don't have the luxury of homeschooling, or have chosen not to, then I just encourage you to stay strong! Even if it doesn't make you a popular parent, hold them off as long as you can. In the long-run, you will be glad that you did. And even if they never realize it, your kids will be glad that you did as well.
So what is the right age to get your child a smart-phone? I have no magic answer to this question, and I don't think that there is a magic answer.
You need to come up with the right answer yourself after prayer, careful consideration, research, and serious discussions with your kids. But PLEASE, don't take this issue lightly. There are serious ramifications involved for our children's emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual health.
Best wishes as you fight upstream in this battle. STAY STRONG!