Relax: Your Middle Schooler Doesn't Need A Smartphone, And This Is Why

by Melissa L. Fenton
Originally Published: 
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My oldest son got a cell phone when he was 13. This was seven years ago, way before the self-deleting genius of Snapchat, and the tempting pull of photographing his entire day on Instagram. It was your basic flip phone, and the only reason I succumbed to giving it to him in the first place was because of a panicked afternoon when he was stuck alone out on a golf course in a lightning storm.

The cheap flip phone did its job well, and though it was lost several times (because kids and responsibility don’t always go hand in hand), the simplicity of it made it a non-issue. The fact that the only people he was texting at the time were his parents didn’t hurt either. I never felt uneasy about him having a phone in his hands, because it was actually just a phone.

The evolution of the cell phone into what is basically a tiny laptop computer that fits in the palm of your hand — loaded to the nines with apps — has meant that our children are no longer just using phones to call Mom or Dad for a ride after soccer practice. They’re using their cell phones to supplement their entire life.

Just read the lyrics of the song in Apple’s new iPhone X commercial.

“I think that I’ll keep loving you, way past sixty-five

We made a language for us two, we don’t need to describe

Every time you call on me, I drop what I do

You are my best friend and we’ve got some shit to shoot”

That’s right, kids! This sleek new $1,000 phone that was manufactured to recognize your face only, is also ready to be your best friend. Think of all the things you and your phone can do together!

My second kid got an iPhone when he turned 15 and started driving. By that point, flip phones were pretty hard to find, and the ease and convenience of adding him to my plan — along with all the safe driving apps, roadside assistance apps, driving maps, and other necessary apps to help foster his new independence — made it a no-brainer. Plus, he began using the phone for a variety of high school assignments, utilizing the phone’s email and cloud drives for his schoolwork.

I was content that, by driving age, his phone maturity use and social media I.Q. was high enough that he would not succumb to major phone mishaps like sexting, cyberbullying, or an infatuation with all things “insta,” and sharing his entire life on newsfeeds. He’s 18 now, and successfully survived what now appears to be a potentially very toxic time in a teen and tweens life — that of being a smartphone user.

Times have changed, and I’ve decided that my third son will not be getting a smartphone until he is driving independently at age 16. He just turned 14, and has been begging for one for the past three years. According to him, he needs one! He needs one for so many reasons, all of which he can’t seem to express. And therein lies the real reason he is not getting one.

I understand I’m probably in the minority here, because according to him, he’s the only one in the 8th grader without a phone. (And also, my fifth grader is lamenting that he, too, is the only kid in his class without a phone.) I have said “no” more times than I can count, and instead have allowed him use of my phone when he is home so I can log in to his Instagram or Twitter, and keep tabs on what he is doing and who he is following. But still he begs, and I know he craves more phone privacy, and thinks he is mature enough to handle what the phone may throw at him, but is he really?

And even if he is mature enough, should our kids be mindlessly staring at phones at ages as young as ten? 12? 14?

Nope, I don’t think so.

And I’m not the only one.

Recently, two Apple investors expressed concern over youth cell phone addictions, and in a scathing letter sent to Apple, specifically detailed the potential and current dangers of smartphone use among our nation’s children. They’re joining many who believe that the growing use of cell phones among children is now a public health crisis, and they’re urging Apple to “develop new software tools that would help parents control and limit phone use more easily and to study the impact of overuse on mental health.”

The letter can be read here, and I encourage you to take five minutes out of your day to read it. (You’re looking at your phone now anyway so just click to it.) The statistics and studies referenced in the letter are jaw dropping, and I’m encouraged by the fact that these investors — along with pediatricians, teachers, and anyone who interacts with kids on a daily basis — are now beginning to take seriously what is slowly becoming this generation’s drug of choice — their cell phone.

My 14-year-old can keep begging for a phone and I will keep replying “no.” (Which is a complete sentence, because I don’t need a reason.) He will whine and moan, and I will be immensely unpopular for what, to him, seems like a lifetime of misery. He will be forced to do regular 14-year-old things, like playing outside, fishing, or reading a book (gasp!). And somehow and in some way, he’ll find a way to produce personal happiness and contentedness within himself, not from a “like,” a “ping,” a “feed,” or a “snap.”

Remember when kids could actually do that? I do too. Let’s bring it back.

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