It's Handy For Kids To Have Phones, But Do They Have To Be Smartphones?

by Annie Reneau
Originally Published: 
Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock

This summer, our oldest child turned 16. The simple Tracfone we’d gotten for her when she was 13 was showing its age, and I was in the market for a new phone, so I passed along my old iPhone to heNewBut those aren’t cool, of course. Is this an “everybody else has one” kind of deal? Are parents feeling pressured to supply their young kids with iPhones and their Android counterparts? I’m sincerely asking, because to me, the downsides of young kids having smartphones so obviously outweigh the benefits that I’m baffled this has become the norm.

And I’m not talking small downsides here. Here are five big reasons to think hard before buying kids smartphones:

1. Expense

The average cost of a smartphone in North America is more than $500 — and that’s before the monthly charges for usage. I wouldn’t let my 10-year-old borrow a piece of jewelry that costs that much, and that would actually be attached to her body. I don’t care how responsible your kid is; they’re still a kid. Kids lose things. They break things. They are just starting to develop judgment and impulse control and nowhere near having it mastered.

2. Distraction

As a fully developed adult, I have a hard time not spending too much time on my phone, and I don’t even play any games on it. It’s far too easy to fill in tiny gaps of downtime with Facebook or news apps or e-mail-checking or Pinterest. It’s also far too easy to do those things when I really should be doing something else. If it’s a challenge for those of us who are responsible grown-ups, how are we going to expect our kids to fare?

3. Sexting

Kids are doing it. Everywhere and all the time, apparently. Granted, this can happen with a call-and-text-only phone as well, but at least that’s easy for parents to track. It’s the social media apps kids are using that are a lot harder for parents to monitor. That’s also where child predators tend to hang out, pretending to be peers — a whole other frightening can of worms.

4. Cyberbullying

Same concept. Kids are doing it. Everywhere and all the time, apparently. And it happens largely through social media where people can easily create fake profiles and gang up and bombard each other with messages. Lessening the opportunities for bullies to be assholes seems like a wise course of action.

5. Pornography

To me, this is the biggest reason to hold off on smartphones. Would you let your kid browse through a magazine shop where there were hardcore porn magazines littered throughout the regular magazines? I think the internet is the most amazing thing humanity has come up with yet, but it’s also the absolute worst. There is no shortage of research about the harmful effects of pornography, but I assume most reasonable people don’t need any research to agree that kids shouldn’t be watching porn, period. Parental controls can help, but with technology constantly changing, it’s a lot to keep up with.

There really are options out there other than smartphones that are cheaper and safer for kids. Doing a simple Google search for “cell phones for calling and texting only” or “cell phones without internet” can help you narrow the field.

Your kids may give you pushback, but if they’ve ever needed us to be a strong parent, it’s in this arena. We didn’t even have cell phones at all until we were adults, so the kids will survive without the top-of-the-line gadgets.

At the very least, if your kid does have a smartphone, get that sucker locked down with as many parental controls and security gateways as you can, and please, please, please monitor what your kids are doing. And if your kid doesn’t have one? Think long and hard, do some research, and stand your ground if you think it’s not a good idea. Our 16-year-old would have said she wanted a smartphone earlier, of course, but now she will tell you she’s glad we waited until she was ready for the responsibility. That handful of years made a big difference.

As the first generation to be raising kids with these technologies, we can’t be naïve about this. Smartphones are here to stay, but kids need us to be wise and vigilant and not give them devices and accessibility they are not emotionally or psychologically prepared to handle.

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