The Smartphone Decision

Holding off on that smartphone may be the best parenting decision you make.

A phone in the hands of every child may be commonplace in our culture today, but research is saying that it may not be such a great idea. Parents are thankfully starting to rethink the smartphone decision. I recently got a call from a mom who had good reason to be upset about her 12-year-old daughter’s Snapchat. She had just gotten her first phone three days earlier with specific instructions, including no Snapchat. I asked the mom, “What is the purpose for your daughter’s phone?” She paused a long time and replied, “I don’t know.”

Here are a few things to consider when thinking about that first phone for your child.

1.  What is the purpose for the phone?

Before you charge up that smartphone think very clearly about the purpose of the phone for your child; “Because everyone else has one” is not a good reason or purpose and “I don’t know” is not a good answer. Do you think your child will have more friends if they have their own phone? Phones guarantee anxiety and drama, but not more friends.

Trust your parenting intuition and think hard about making a decision that you or your child are not ready to undertake. If the phone is for security purposes or “pick-up time” details, a flip phone or tracphone works well. Access to “their own” smartphone with internet 24/7 can definitely change your child and your relationship with your child. You must be prepared for the responsibility of managing it well. Sometimes the best solution is the most simple and the delay option may be the most reasonable route.

2. Their brains are still growing.

It takes 25 years for human brains to reach maturity. Your child is not a little adult. At the age of 12, children are not cognitively or emotionally equipped to be burdened with a data phone. Their frontal cortex (or reasoning center) is not ready for the onslaught of risks, temptations, quick decisions, judgment calls and impulse control needed to stay safe on a phone. So, if you get them a phone, they must rely on your frontal cortex to guide them. Do you have time to monitor everything they are doing on their phone?  Are you ready for them to be thrown into an adult world? If not, then delaying the purchase will be best.

3. Toy or tool? 

For a child under age 16, a data phone purely is an entertainment activity. Social media also falls into the entertainment category. It is an expensive toy and can get them into a lot of trouble. Remember, middle school students are not mature, and playing with a phone or experimenting on social media for hours everyday is not going to speed up their maturity, make them smarter, or help their social, emotional or academic development. Once they are older, more mature, driving and need a phone, it might be a useful tool for them.

4.  Will you allow social media?

When you say yes to a data phone, by default, you are saying yes to social media (unless you take the data and apps off the phone, which makes it a basic talk/text phone). The reason why they want a smartphone is so they can get on social media, that is their purpose for the phone. Is that your purpose for the phone? Are you ready to monitor their social media lives everyday?

5. iPhones are very difficult to monitor.

Because iMessage uses a different messaging technology than SMS messages, you need to consider both formats when setting up text tracking and parental controls. In addition, when updating your child's phone, be aware that some Apple updates can wipe out some of your phone settings, removing any parental controls you setup; therefore making it very tricky to fully lock down. This makes iPhones a really risky choice for kids. You can't assume that you can easily keep it kid-safe with the click of a button. Plus, you also may need to consider budgeting for a third-party subscription to monitor it well. Android phones are also tricky but SMS messages are easier to monitor with most phone carriers.

6. They may see porn and inappropriate content.

Actually, there is a very high probability that a child with a smartphone will see more adult content than a child who doesn’t have one. This is due to the ease of access and lack of reliable controls on phones. If this is your first child, you may think I’m nuts; but if this is your second or third child, you understand data is hard to monitor. If you know in your heart that your child would never look at it, think again. Our job as parents is to protect our kids as long as we can while their brains are still developing. Early exposure is very dangerous.

7. Is it OK to delay getting your child a smartphone?

Yes it is, and it is becoming more popular than you think. Consider getting your child a basic phone first if they desperately need a phone. It is always good to start small and slow before you get in over your head with an issue you were not prepared for. Many parents are choosing to give their kids basic phones and are holding off on social media until they are older. When your child is older, consider allowing one social media platform on your phone to begin with so you can teach them how to use it responsibly. Remember that social media is entertainment and is not a necessary part of growing up even today in our digital world.

Smartphones aren’t going anywhere. Your child will have plenty of opportunity to dive into that world when they are older and more socially mature. Delaying the purchase of a smartphone for your child is SMART!  Remember, your child only has one very short childhood. Let them have it and enjoy it fully!

For more practical tips on the best balance for kids and phones and social media visit our site, come to a workshop, or host one at your school or church. Find out how at Families Managing Media