By Lisa Kay Tate
In early 2017, I wrote a piece here at The Loftus Party on “Why I Don't Own a Smart Phone,” and I’m happy to report I still don’t. Not much has really changed since then.
What has changed in the last year is I am about to have a 16-year-old kid. Scary stuff, I know. As this wonderful and horrifying milestone approaches, my father (the doting grandpa) has been pushing me to get her a Smart Phone, because “all the kids her age have one.”
Yup, I’m fully aware of that, and it’s pretty depressing. I see teenagers sitting next to each other on high school campuses, engrossed in their own little worlds, barely aware or caring who is next to them. They hardly talk to each other, and on a more dangerous level, don’t seem to be aware of their surroundings.
This over-connected, under social generation isn’t going unnoticed, and is being addressed in books like “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us,” by Jean M. Twenge, “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids - and How to Break the Trance” by Nicholas Kardaras, “Breaking the Trance: A Practical Guide for Parenting the Screen-Dependent Child” by George Lynn, and many other books daring to finally address this phone addition epidemic.
I don’t claim to have all the answers to what can be done to curb every problem related to this issue, whether it's physical inactivity to cyberbullying, but I will share one thing I’ve done in my own family to hopefully help my own children. I won’t let my kids own smart phones.
First, let me put fourth this disclaimer: I’m not an expert on teen behavior, so don’t go yanking the phones out of your own kids hands based on what I’m saying. I’m just sharing why I’ve made this decision in my own house, and it so far seems to be the right choice for us.
In addition to all reasons I listed in my original article about why I don't own a smart phone, there here are a few more reasons I especially don’t want my teenager to have one either:
There are some pretty horrible places in that little screen.
There have always been, sexually explicit or violence-glorifying movies, and teenagers wanting to see them enough could get access it. However, it used to be much harder to get to. If there was something “inappropriate” kids wanted to see, we had to work a little harder to find it. It wasn’t in the palm of our hand 24/7. Likewise, bullying and sexting are quick, frequent sometimes near permanent means of ruining a teen’s life with the help of fast-moving social media. I realize there is no sheltering my teen from everything, all the time. So much comes at teens so fast today, I want my kids to at least have a break from the constant barrage of it all.
I Want to Actually Talk to my Teen at the Dinner Table.
I have a great teen, but she’s not perfect. I get the occasional noncommittal grunts and eye rolls that come from a teenager who doesn’t want to answer mom questions after school or in the morning. What I don’t get are arguments about “texting at the table,’ nor to I have to fight with a cat video for attention. Whatever the teen mood of the day, we actually talk about it at dinner. We talk about the day’s events, debate a little politics, tell incredibly groan-worthy jokes, and geek out over movies and books. When we go out to eat, if she wants to escape from us, we let her take a book or her sketchpad. I had one in-law criticize me with “what’s the difference between looking a book and an iPhone," at dinner just this week. We were then approached by strangers telling us how refreshing it was to see kids reading instead of “staring at phones.” I had to give myself a little mental fist pump for that.
Teens have impulsive and addictive personalities.
Here’s a shocker: teens’ emotions and hormones are all over the place. They can be intelligent, outgoing and eager to take on the new challenges of life with overwhelming enthusiasm. They can also be lethargic, combative and foul-tempered. I’ve used the" open bag of Dorito’s" analogy before with the need to check cell phones all the time…and this is for adults. Add this impulse to being a teen, and you get constant checking, tweets, “likes,” messages and updates. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, it’s true, but give them something else to get addicted to like a hobby, sport or extracurricular activity. Give their texting thumbs a rest.
My daughter will be driving soon.
If I could put this one off another ten years, I would, but there’s no running from it. My daughter will soon be able to drive. I’m already bracing myself for the same terrors all parents of new drivers face from fender benders, miner traffic tickets and terrifying trips in the passenger seat wishing I had my own set of brakes and a steering wheel. I’m also facing the fear of my daughter getting into an accident with consequences more devastating than just a few dings on a car body.
This is where I hear the argument that she will need a phone in case of emergency, and that’s a legit point. When my daughter goes out with friends she does have a phone…my crappy flip phone. It’s there for when she needs it, and she has zipped me a note if she’s going to be late or when she needs to be picked up. However, it’s awkward to text from, so the temptation to send frivolous texts won’t be as strong (I hope). Plus, a flip phone is about as fashionable as circa 1974 culottes, making sure it remains in the purse or pocket until needed.
There are so many distractions out there for teens learning to drive, and messing with smart phones of one of these. One of the recent stats from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists an estimated 660,000 drivers use electronic devices while driving during the day. In 2015 along 390,000 people were injured while driving distracted, another 3,477 killed. No telling what this year's would be.
If my teen will soon be joining the number of teen drivers on the road, I want to do everything I can to make sure she doesn’t become a statistic. If that includes keeping her away from all those fun little apps on a smart phone, so be it.
She doesn’t want one…yet!
As much as my own dad has been pushing me to get my daughter a smart phone, I’m getting some support from my daughter herself who just isn’t interested. My teen isn’t suffering, nor is she disconnected. She has a music player, and does tune out the world with her music, plus she has a little laptop on which she does homework, talks to friends and maintains her Pinterest. We let her play video games, too, so we're not total ogres. All these things we do try our best to limit, but fortunately the laptop is too impractical to carry around everywhere. She seems pretty content, for now.
I’m not living in a fantasy world. I know this attitude may change, and she might be begging for a phone. Or, someday, when she moves out on her own, perhaps to college or whatever other adventures life brings her way, she will want to get her own smart phone. She might find it so engaging she becomes infatuated with it, or she might just opt for a cheap flip phone like her mom, so she can stay connected but not feel a constant need to check into that little flat, black rectangle, box.
Whatever she decides, it will be her decision, but I hope I helped raise her to know she can live an active and fulfilling life without one. If that doesn’t turn out to be the case in her adult life, at least I know I did my part help her make the right decisions.
The best I can hope for is whatever she decides regarding smart phones, she remembers what I taught her and makes some smart decisions.