I loved reading this article in The New York Times about an 11-year old “lost” in Manhattan without a phone. This tween did just fine; once she realized she was lost, she asked to use a phone and called her mom. The only one freaked out was the mom – the kiddo was fine all along.
I can relate to this story, and especially to the mom’s panic when she first realizes her daughter is “out there” alone in with no phone, because it happened to me once.
A few years ago when we went to Universal’s Volcano Bay, a huge and crowded water park in Orlando, I was inadvertently separated from Zoe and Napa for about 20 minutes. It felt like an eternity and was an absolutely terrifying experience for me.
For the girls, though? Not scary at all. When Z realized she had lost me, she simply went up to a mom with kids, asked to use her phone to call me, and then dialed my number. No problem at all – she was never scared for a moment.
I was so proud of Z for keeping her cool and knowing exactly what to do. We’ve always talked about moms with kids being the safest strangers to approach in a situation like this – and I love that Z is confident enough to do just that. And that she knows my number by heart! Z’s self-assuredness at age 9 turned a potential disaster into a non-event. All without having a phone of her own.
In fact, if she’d had a phone, she wouldn’t have gotten to show off her awesome common sense and survival skills – and she might not know my number by heart, since it would be pre-programmed in anytime she needed me.
More reasons NOT to have a phone than to have one
There are so many reasons for kids to not have a phone – especially a smartphone. The potential for distraction and addiction is huge. I’m a big proponent of waiting until 8th grade at the absolute earliest – and I’d love to wait even longer if we can.
I know it’s tough as parents, because there is huge peer pressure – and even societal pressure – to give young kids their own phone. Personally, I’d rather feel the stress of being the “mean mom” who won’t give her a smart phone than the stress of seeing my daughter suffering due to always-on access to the Internet and social media.
We first started feeling heavy pressure to give our daughter a phone this past year, when she was in 4th grade. It definitely seems like more kids have one than don’t – and she is well aware of that.
At her birthday party in March, we had a total of 11 girls and all but two brought some sort of device with them. I should have known we were in trouble when most of the girls asked for our wifi password the second they got in the door!
The party instantly broke up into cliques, with the “TikTok girls” dominating the activities and the girls who aren’t on TikTok immediately feeling left out.
The two who didn’t bring cell phones felt most left out of all, and as soon as one of them came to me to complain, I asked the girls to put their phones away for the rest of the evening – which they did, willingly, and were obviously used to this request.
Once the phones were put away, the girls gelled so much better as a cohesive group – they did mask facials, did each other’s makeup, shared snacks and told spooky stories. The phones did nothing but distance them, cause rifts and not allow them to connect and engage with each other.
Even adults need time away from phones
I know how hard it is for my husband and I, who are alleged adults, to put down our phones sometimes. There’s always “one more thing” – and they get in the way of family time, friendships and just connecting and interacting with others. I would hate for my daughter, who’s a child and therefore even more susceptible to getting sucked into a smartphone for hours, to have unlimited access.
I allow her to use my smartphone in the afternoons or evenings after school or chores are finished, but we set a timer and her interactions are easily monitored. We share and co-manage accounts on Youtube, Instagram and TikTok so that everything is transparent and above board. She’s not allowed to go lock herself in a room with my phone.
It’s not that I don’t trust my daughter or her judgement – I absolutely do. It’s that I don’t trust the Internet or the addictive, distracting properties of the smartphone. Setting it up this way – with maximum parental involvement and engagement – just feels right to us.
Do I miss my phone sometimes when it’s her turn to use it? Sure – but as already stated, I probably spend too much time on it anyway. This way, I’m more likely to pick up a book instead of reading on my Kindle app – or water my plants instead of scrolling through Facebook.
An added bonus of her using my phone is that I get to see the photos she takes – not just silly or stunning selfies, but also creative photography projects that we often talk about and look through together.
It’s good to put our phones down for hours, even a day or more at a time… but we so rarely do it on our own. Sharing my phone with a pre-tween helps keep us both a bit more balanced, and gives Z plenty of opportunities for negotiating, which is clearly a great life skill.
We are by no means anti-tech. Z has a Gizmo Gadget watch we got her two summers ago so she can call or message us if she needs to. While she’s at home, she can also use Alexa or our Ring doorbell to summon her dad and I in an emergency.
Would it be easier for me to just get her a phone of her own? On some level, sure – but parenting isn’t necessarily supposed to be easy. We’re here to guide them every step of the way, especially during tough stuff. For our family, that means no smartphone of her own and staying super engaged with her screen time and online activities.
So far, so good. If you’ve had experience either giving or withholding a smart phone with your own pre-tween or tween, I’d love to hear in the comments below or over on Facebook. Obviously, every kiddo is different!