When most of us think about cell phones for tweens and young teens, the general assumption is that they are a distraction. A distraction from the family, from “real” life, from school and other obligations. I thought that too and resisted getting a phone for my son, especially since he has ADHD.
Even just a few short years ago, if you had asked me if I would let my 13-year-old son have a phone, I probably would have told you no. My answer would have been about more than all the usual reasons given by parents who are strict with electronics — that 13-year-olds don’t need phones, don’t need social media, don’t need the Internet. All that constant connectivity is terrible for a developing brain. It’s too much stimulation.
For me though, the resistance was more about how much a phone would distract my son. The hallmark symptom of ADHD is being easily distracted. My son Lucas was diagnosed in the third grade, though even as early as preschool he stood out from his peers in a way that made us know that something more was going on. Surely, giving him a phone would mean he’d be extra distracted. He already had a hard enough time paying attention and getting his homework done, especially since, by the time homework time rolls around in the evening, his ADHD medication has worn off.
There are a couple of things that came up to change my mind with the cell phone debate though. The first was that I separated from my former husband. We both wanted a way to quickly communicate directly with our son whenever we wanted to. We were also having issues with transportation to and from school — sometimes the bus would arrive late, and my son would have to borrow a friend’s phone to let me know to arrive later to the bus stop. Sometimes there wasn’t a friend around to borrow a phone from, and there would be no way to communicate. I’d be sitting at the bus stop waiting for his bus with no way to know what was going on like it was 1997 or something.
So we went ahead and got him a cell phone — my former husband’s older model phone that was still in pretty good working order. My son’s dad put some limits on the phone as far as what my son is capable of doing with it, and we have made it clear that we can open the phone anytime we want and read anything within it. There is no right to privacy with this phone.
None of that has been an issue though. We put that contract in place to be responsible parents, but it honestly wasn’t the main concern. I was most concerned that the phone would be a huge distraction when it came to schoolwork. I worried my son would have his nose in his phone constantly, never wanting to hang out with the family, putting up a fight whenever I asked him to put it away.
Not only has none of that happened (okay, sometimes he does get annoyed when I make him put the phone away), but something really amazing also happened that I couldn’t have predicted — my son is using his phone to communicate with his friends about schoolwork. Having the phone has actually improved his grades.
This is the coolest thing. My son has always struggled so much, not only to get his homework done, but to remember that he even has homework at all. I would constantly remind him to check his backpack, to look at his binder where he was supposed to write down his assignments, and even with my reminders, he would somehow miss assignments.
But now, with his phone, he’s in regular communication with his friends from his classes. In addition to their usual chit-chat, they’re asking each other how they managed different problems on their homework. If one of them isn’t sure which pages they’re supposed to be working on, they’ll text the group. Not only is my son getting reminders about the homework, but he’s seeing, in a group conversation, all his friends’ feelings about their work. He is seeing a visual representation of everyone else’s determination to complete their work and complete it well. He’s seeing their tenacity in black-and-white, literally. And it motivates him in a big way.
My son is being both reminded to complete his homework, as well as inspired to care about it in the first place. And all because we got him a cell phone.
I know there are a lot of problems that come along with technology. The Internet is a scary, dangerous place, and we definitely have to mitigate those concerns. But I’m so happy I made the decision to let my son get a cell phone, because this connection to his friends has made all the difference. It has literally changed him from a B-C student to an A student. I never would have believed it, but getting my kid a cell phone has turned out to be the best thing we’ve done for his grades since medicating him for his ADHD.