Like any preteen, my 11-year-old daughter is dramatic, but when it comes to asking for a phone, her theatrics are especially impressive. “Mom, I’m seriously the only person in my class without a phone,” she tells me constantly. “You have no idea what it’s like!”
It’s high drama, but I kind of think she might be right. It really does seem like she is the only middle schooler around without her own smartphone.
So what gives? Am I the only parent left who is a bit bewildered by the fact that more than half of U.S. children have a smartphone by the age of 11? I mean, can we think back to what we were doing at age 11? Personally, I was collecting stickers in my sticker book and saving up money for a new Lisa Frank folder.
While I am by no means anti-screens (shoutout to the gift that is Disney+!), I am also in no rush to hand over to my child a device that contains more technology than what it took to land a man on the moon. I know there are a lot of opinions on both “sides” of the phone debate — if you want to call it that — but I’m in no position to stand with either side. Like a lot of parents, I’m basically just winging it.
Right now, my gut says we’re just not yet ready to take that step. There’s not one main reason for that decision. It’s about more than just my daughter’s development, more than just the phone, more than just how the introduction of this device would change our family’s dynamics; it’s about all of those factors combined.
When we talk about this issue as parents, I feel that we aren’t giving full enough weight to the fact that giving a child a smartphone affects the entire family, not just the kid who gets the phone. I think about how introducing a phone will affect siblings who will have to compete with a device for attention; it will affect the group’s dynamics and car rides and going outside and basically any opportunity my daughter has to be bored, which, call me crazy, but I believe is good for her. And it affects me, as the mom, because let’s face it, setting up and enforcing parental monitors on a phone will be my responsibility and that’s one more thing I don’t want on my plate.
The point is, there is a lot to consider in getting a smartphone and I don’t think there is one right or wrong way to do it, and I certainly don’t feel like being rushed into a decision I’m not ready to make.
I know there are calls for a minimum age for children to get smartphones, like the “Wait `Till 8th” campaign, but I’m just not sure this decision should be made based on age, either. Every situation is unique, so I can’t adhere to any magical age that determines readiness. Some children might live in a two-household family and need to keep in touch with their parents when they are away; some children may have special needs that warrant the use of a device; and still other children may be easily distractible or have trouble setting boundaries on their own and just not be developmentally ready for the constant distraction of a phone.
I also think we don’t talk enough about the privilege factor when it comes to smartphones. I mean, these are not cheap devices! My husband and I are still rocking some outdated iPhone 6’s, and I worry about the message it will send to my children–who already have so much more than I ever dreamed of having when I was a child–to be carrying around such an expensive piece of technology as an everyday item. In a world where some children rely on school in order to even get a meal for the day, how has it somehow become the norm for others to have smartphones that cost more money that my husband made in a month as a brand-new teacher?
So I remind myself regularly that there is nothing wrong with me taking my time to give my kid a phone. This new world of connected children is uncharted territory for both of us. She’s my oldest and first child facing this issue, so, honestly, we’re just going moment to moment. And hey, who knows — in a pinch, I’ve still got my old sticker book and maybe I’ll just bust it out for her. #coolmom #lisafrankwhat