My kid’s smartphone? My kid doesn’t have a smartphone and never will, I can hear some of you saying. I, too, swore my children would never have smartphones. Not only was I convinced they would kill their brain cells playing video games all day and never learn how to talk to other human beings as a result of texting, I was also pretty sure they would get addicted to porn and trashy youtube videos which would surely lead to a life of ruin. All because of the evils of technology.
It should be noted that this was before I got my own smartphone, and before my kids were old enough to want their own. Now that we’re there (been there for awhile), my feelings have changed entirely. The reality is, smart phones aren’t going anywhere, and technology is advancing faster than ever. More to the point, smartphones rock. My smartphone (Apple, I love you) is the hardest working tool in the house, and smartphones can be invaluable tools for our children as well. (Let’s start with the dictionary.com app for example . . .)
Sure, you may think a smartphone is an unnecessary accessory or diversion, but your kids will have one at some point, so you can either decide to help them learn how to manage that type of technology while they are under your influence, or you can let them navigate that transition on their own once they leave home. I choose the former. (Besides, there is nothing inherently “good” about resisting the advancements of technology and making your child the last–or only–person in their school without a smartphone. What’s the point of that, really?)
So why not just get them a regular cellphone with texting capability? (In case you aren’t aware, the difference between a regular cell phone and a smartphone is the difference between having a portable phone and having a portable phone with the abilities of a computer in your pocket.) We considered switching to cell phones with text only this year when our second child became old enough for a phone (because the smartphone has been a problem at times for our first child), but there was only ONE available among dozens of options at the store we were in, and after talking about it, we came back to the conclusion that eventually they would have one anyway, so we might as well help them learn how to use it responsibly now.
The fact that is has been a problem at times for our oldest child only reinforces my feeling that we need to figure this out together as a family. The smartphone phenomenon is still a relatively new thing for all of us, and parents are just as susceptible to the inherent problems of smartphone use as their children are. As the first generation of parents to deal with this unique blessing and challenge of advanced technology, we should be jumping at the chance to help our kids through this transition, not shying away from it hoping smartphones will go away. They’re not going away, and they’re a fantastic tool when used appropriately.
Keeping all of this in mind, here are a few of my ideas for making the relationship between you, your child, and the smartphone a good one. (And I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.)
- Don’t get them a smartphone until they need one. Okay, so no one really “needs” a smartphone (kids can survive with text and call only features), but they are kind of becoming ubiquitous among older tweens and teens. I’m not advocating the “everybody else has one” mentality, but kind of. At the very least, it makes sense for kids to have some kind of cell phone (regular or smart) once they are old enough to be away from a parent more often than not (i.e. middle school or junior high). I can’t tell you how many times we have used our phones as a family to communicate with each other about where we are, who is picking up who, etc. (Often in real time, as in which side of the building are you standing in front of?) The basic cell phone is an invaluable tool for every parent when it comes to keeping track of their kids and communicating in general, but if you think of a cell phone as a tool, then a smart phone is a cell phone on steroids. I mentioned the dicitonary.com app, but that’s just the beginning. I don’t have the time or space to go into all the fantastic features available on smartphones, but why not let kids take advantage of and learn how to use this technology? Sure, we lived just fine without cell or smartphones for the entire history of mankind, but why not use the best tools currently available?
- Let them know whose phone it really is. Even if they earned the money to buy the phone themselves, you are most likely paying for the monthly plan that allows them to use it. Remind them whenever you need to that the phone (or at least, it’s use) actually belongs to you and you can reclaim it at any time, for any reason. (Like not finishing homework or chores, or spending too much of their free time on it, or failing to pick up or text you back when you are trying to reach them about where they are).
- Get a mobile spyware program. If you’re really concerned about what your child may be doing/viewing on their smartphone (I am), you may want to invest in a mobile spyware program (like MobileSpy) and let them know you will be monitoring their activity. I don’t have a punitive style of parenting, so I am very clear with my kids that I am doing this for their safety, not because I don’t trust them or because I am trying to “bust them”. Most kids will see or do something inappropriate on the Internet at some point, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and be able to talk about it when it happens. A spyware program helps you make sure they aren’t doing/viewing anything inappropriate on a regular basis that they are too embarrassed to talk to you about. (Which, of course, they will be!) Again, do you want this to happen now while they are living at home, or when they are 18 and on their own?
- No passwords allowed. I know one mom who reserves the right to check her son’s phone at any time, no questions asked. And it’s a good thing, because that’s how she found out there were two very sexually aggressive girls trying to engage her son through text messages. Tough moms aren’t afraid to take control of their kids smartphones and know what they are doing on them. That’s what parents are for. Our kids may hate us for it, but they will thank us later.
- Have phones checked in at certain times of day. I know another mom (I’m so thankful for other great moms!) who has a special basket specifically for phones to be checked in after school. We have a charging dock in our kitchen where they get checked in every night (or sooner, if it’s a problem). I also love the idea of having certain times each day or even most of one day a week (for us, that’s Sunday) when everyone unplugs and reconnects with each other.
Most of us aren’t going to do this perfectly, and there will be many bumps along the way, but working together as families to learn how to use technology to our advantage is one of the best things we can do for our kids growing up in the 21st century. Believe me, I wish I were living back in the 50‘s most of the time, but rather than wallow and whine about all the reasons it’s so hard to raise kids in the 2010’s, I prefer to take charge and make the best of it. And for me, that means getting smart about my children’s smartphones.
QUESTION: What’s your take on kids having smartphones? Should they have them? At what age?
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Alisha Gale says
Even though it’s nearly impossible to find a not-smartphone cell phone, it’s pretty easy to find text/call only plans. The pay-as-you-go plans a lot of cell companies offer generally don’t include data (though the smartphones may still be able to access the web if they have wifi capabilities). This may be a good intermediate step for younger kids who aren’t ready for a phone that can access the web.
Thanks, Alisha! I was just talking to a mom yesterday who was wanting to get her 7-year-old child a phone (only a phone) (for reasons I can’t remember now), and I guess if it’s necessary at that age for whatever reason then that’s a great option. It’s also a great option for those parents of older kids who don’t want them having web access for whatever reasons—and I really do get that. I just don’t like the mentality of treating technology as an enemy to be afraid of. I’d rather own it and control it my way and teach my kids to do the same. Sorry, getting off track . . . thanks for that comment.
Timely article for me…I was just talking to my daughters yesterday about a family we know who shuns technology. I explained that I would rather have it in our home so I can help guide and teach them how to use it without abusing it. It isn’t going away!
Love the suggestions…my kids don’t have smartphones yet (but I love mine!). We do have an extra phone that is just call/text for my older 2 to take when we think they might need it.
Allyson Reynolds says
Thanks, Carrine. Sounds like you’ve got a good system working for your family!
My kids are still young (8, 6, 3, infant), and I don’t even have a smartphone yet, so my first thought on this was like you described — no smartphones, maybe ever. But this has made me reconsider. I still think my kids are too young for cell phones at all (I think I will probably take the plunge within the next year!), but perhaps in a few years …
Thanks for these thoughts; it gave me a lot to think about it!
Allyson Reynolds says
Beth, you will love your smartphone once you get one! They are such amazing tools! And I’m jealous that you still have quite a few years before your kids will need one. 😀
I don’t think children need smart phones at all. My husband and I don’t have smartphones– we don’t even have texting! And to put this into perspective, I’m only 27 and my husband is 29. We have tablets and a computer, so we’re not shunning technology. I really think smart phones can be a waste of money and encourage teenagers to feel entitled…such as what has happened with my siblings still at home. Smart phones are not a necessity for most people, much less teenagers.
That being said that I am totally against smart phones, I DO think you bring up very valid points about technology. You’re so right–much better to teach our children to use technology wisely and exercise self control now than she they are on their own. My children are 6,4,2, and a baby and they have media time very day–but they know that playing on our iPads or watching a show is a privilege.
Allyson Reynolds says
Michelle, if you and your husband like and frequently use your tablet and computer, then you would LOVE a smartphone! They are amazing tools (not just fun, expensive toys) and definitely a necessity for several professions-my husband’s included. The more people get them and use them for a a variety of functions, the closer we get to them becoming as common as the home computer. (I can almost guarantee that when your 6-year-old is 16, that will be the case.) Besides calls, emails, texts, and GPS, I use mine for all my calendars, lists, alarms, appointments, to-do’s–everything that used to be on paper, but so much easier to carry in my purse for ready reference (which I do ALL the time). We didn’t have a home computer when I was growing up, but now my family can’t function without one. That’s where we are headed with smartphones. I’m as concerned about my kids feeling entitled as the next parent, but I wouldn’t single out smartphones as the only offender. Entitlement is a state of mind more than anything, and that can happen on a lot of levels with a variety of “things”. A child can have a smartphone and not feel entitled. I wouldn’t paint them in such a bad light.
I also think the idea of no passwords, mobilespy and a check in location everyday is brilliant! If smart phones become the only option and my kids buy one themselves when they’re older, we will definitely be implementing these suggestions. Great ideas!
Allyson Reynolds says
Ok, lots of thoughts on this and I’m not saying mine is the right way at all but thought I’d share. My husband works for Google so we definitely don’t shun technology! Being married to a “techie” we have been having this conversation for years and our kids are still little. I love the ideas you listed about the mobile spy apps, no passwords, and a check in location. A couple of things my husband and I have discussed is a text/call pay as you go phone starting when they are 12, particularly thinking of weekday youth activities at our church, babysitting, sports practice, etc. that they might need a phone for to call home, etc. I like the idea of introducing smart phones in our family at age 16, but also taking into consideration their maturity/responsibility level regardless of age. 16 gives them a couple years before they leave high school and I think that’s plenty of time for us to teach and guide them through the smartphone world. One thing you mentioned was that parents are most likely paying for the monthly plan. For me, when it comes to kids having phones I’m all about having them pay for the insurance/fees/monthly costs. If the cost is too high for what they can realistically afford then I can see adjusting the amount they contribute. But I do like the idea of them contributing to the monthly payment for the privilege of using their phone in some way. My kids already know how to use our tablets with supervision, which have a lot of the same features as a smart phone. We have had conversations over what is appropriate/not appropriate on Youtube as we have watched videos together. Teaching them about technology as parents is much preferred to letting their friends at school teach them, whose parents may/may not be guiding them through it.
Allyson Reynolds says
Hey, Mary! By “pay as you go” do you mean something like they give you a quarter every time they make a call? (If you can pull that off, you are much more organized and disciplined than I am!) Like I said in response to someone else who commented, I think 16 sounds like a great age, especially for the reasons you mentioned. Helping to pay for the monthly pay is also a fantastic idea! Thank you so much for sharing, Mary!!
I agree with you Allyson! I think it is our job as parents to teach them how to navigate technology as much as we need to teach them about doing laundry or driving a car! Better to do it while in my home than sending them out into the world without any guidelines. My kids get cell phones when they turn 14, my oldest is 14 and has a simple phone with texting but I imagine about the magic age of 16 a smart phone will come his way.
Allyson Reynolds says
16 sounds like a good age. We might have to change our age limit depending on how things go! Thanks.
I don’t believe middle school or even high school children need constant access to a smart phone. It often becomes a distraction during school when they should be paying attention to their classes, teachers and developing friendships. When they get home from school, our children have access to a nice, big screen Mac which has everything they need.
My husband and I allow our older children to have cell phones with texting as a convenience to us so that we can get a hold of them when they are attending extracurricular activities or with friends. After all, We pay for the service. Texting their friends becomes a bonus perk for them that we can use as leverage if they break family rules. If they have a job and can pay for a smart phone, they are welcome to take that on. This becomes a great opportunity for them to learn responsibility and ownership.
We got our college bound daughter a smart phone because at that point she needed one. We also had a good chunk of money set aside for her college fund that otherwise would have been spent on monthly payments for all-day access to YouTube videos during her high school years.
As far as learning responsible use of technology, there is nothing wrong with waiting until they have the maturity of 18 years behind them to put a smart phone in their hands. In the meantime, they can learn to be safe on the Internet through home computers and even an IPod touch.
Why throw away money every month for smart phone service when you could be teaching your kids so much more by waiting? What do they learn? Delayed gratification. Responsibilty. Ownership. Respect. Kids don’t need smart phones. They need smart parents.
Allyson Reynolds says
I agree with you. Constant access is a problem. Our schools are extremely strict about absolutely no cell phone use (at the very sight of them, they get confiscated), so even though my kids take them to school, they only use them after school if they need to tell me they are staying after or something like that. Once they are home they can’t be on them until they’ve finished chores, homework, and instrument practice, and even then if I notice they are using too much of their free time on their phone I will ask them to put it away. Then, of course, they check them in at night, so they really don’t have “constant” access to them by any stretch of the imagination. Did you get your college age daughter a smart phone because she doesn’t have her own computer? I’m just curious how you define the difference in need between the high schooler and the college age child? (I’m asking sincerely, not trying to “challenge” you . . .) I think learning to be safe on a big home computer that is in a public place in the home is easier than learning to be safe on a hand held device that is much more “private”. It’s just my opinion of course, but I’d rather they make that transition while still at home when I can justify a “mobile spy” type of program. As far as expense, we have never felt like we were throwing our money away on technology because it is such an invaluable tool for us. I do, however, feel that way about expensive clothing and home decorations/furniture. It’s all relative based on individual personalities and preferences. For all of these reasons, I DO consider myself a smart parent–they come in all shapes and sizes and often do things differently based on their unique family situation and dynamics. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I’m sure what you are doing with your family is the smart thing to do!
Sarah Monson says
I like your ground rules, Allyson. One thing my parents did with my youngest sister that worked well was drawing up a contract that they all signed. The terms of the contract included many of the ideas you mentioned. Another rule in the contract was never using the phone in her room. I like the idea of a contract because it spells everything out on paper and can even outline the consequences for breaking the terms of the contract.
Allyson Reynolds says
I love the idea of a contract! Thanks so much for sharing that!!
Just had my soon to be 16-year-old daughter read this post (and the comments) and her response was, “Since our Internet is slow today (and it is, our lovely dogs chewed on one of the wires) and my physics homework is all computer based, I just did my physics homework on my smartphone.” What an awesome tool!
Pay as you go meaning one of those prepaid cheap phones, just to have on hand for calling mom and dad. I think that’s all a Preteen/young teen needs.
Allyson Reynolds says
Oh! Now I get it! (I seriously didn’t know there was such a thing. Shows you how much I know!) I hope you reserve the right to change your mind when your kids become teenagers. Like Scott says in the comment below (and I mentioned in my post), it’s not about need. No one needs a gas lawn mower when you can still get a push reel, but why not use the best tools available? I really think by the time your kids are teenagers, smartphones will be as common as the home computer so this discussion of “entitlement” or “spoiling” will be obsolete (I’m assuming that’s your concern, or is it the potentially harmful content they will also encounter along with the good?) I bet it won’t be long before schools are using them as well. (Thinking of my daughter doing her computer based physics homework on her smartphone yesterday.) I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see! Thanks for the conversation, Mary. 😀
Scott McLeod says
If we look at the numerous ways that people use smartphones, they’re not “portable phones with the abilities of a computer,” they’re portable computers with the abilities of a phone. That perspective change can make a huge difference. Does someone ‘need’ a smartphone? I guess that’s up to each family to decide. For my own family, do I want my children to have easy access to 1) the entire world’s worth of knowledge, and 2) powerful, unprecedented learning, communication, creation, and contributive opportunities? Yes, I do, particularly the closer they get to adult age.
I’m not a big fan of spyware. Just because we can immerse our children in a surveillance state doesn’t mean that we should. For example, as our kids get older, we allow them to roam more freely at the park and around the neighborhood without us following tightly behind. We give them the space to start learning to navigate on their own. Similarly, few adults want to be monitored 24-7. I believe that our children also deserve to have some intellectual, emotional, and computing space of their own. We have all of our children’s passwords and talk with them fairly regularly about how they’re using digital devices and the Internet. But we believe that education and dialogue are far, far better than acting like the NSA (and I’m not saying you’re doing that, Allyson, but that’s how the software is pitched to worried parents by fearmongering corporations).
Thanks for an interesting article. The future (and present) of our learning, communication, computing, and information landscapes is mobile. It’s time we started recognizing that fact and taking advantage of the affordances this bring us.
Allyson Reynolds says
Thanks, Scott, for making clear one of my main points: it’s not about need, it’s about helping kids access and learn how to responsibly use the best technological tools available. Some would consider that spoiling (because they think of smartphones in the hands of teenagers in terms of social media and games), but I would simply consider that smart. Like you, I agree that being able to have the world’s storehouse of knowledge at your fingertips (and in your pocket) is an amazing advantage.
As far as mobile spyware goes, you bring up some great points. I especially love what you said about education and dialogue being better than acting like the NSA. I think I’m kind of paranoid because of a variety of stories I’ve heard from people I know personally who found out too late about the things their kids were doing on their smartphones (which the kids of course denied when having “dialogue” with their parents), but it might be an unfounded paranoia when I actually think about my kids and the relationship I have with them. I’ll have to think about it! Thanks again!
Jen G. says
Thanks for starting this conversation among deliberate, thinking moms. Setting the positives and negatives of smartphones aside, we just don’t have the budget for them, especially after saving for college/missions/retirement. We have let our children know that they will need to buy a phone themselves if they want one. We are hoping that will help them deal maturely (with our guidance, of course) when the times comes.
Allyson Reynolds says
Well, there is always that (the family budget :D), though I would venture to guess that in a few years people will be figuring out how to get them one way or another in the same way almost everyone now has a home computer. (But again, I think of them as awesome tools, not toys.) They will also probably get cheaper over time as they become more common. I was the kid who grew up in the home that couldn’t afford too many “extras” as well, and it did teach me how to work hard for what I wanted so I appreciate what you are saying here. Thanks for sharing!
I love this article. As a parent with 5 kids (oldest is 11), we’re headed in that direction in the next year. You make so many great points and I’m always grateful to learn from others who have traveled the path right before me.
For our family, we’re likely to try a regular cell phone for our daughter when she goes to Junior High next year but I think we’ll probably move along to the smartphone route within a year or two after that. I LOVE my smartphone and I think it’s an invaluable tool. I, too, agree that I’d like to help my kids use the technology and learn how to manage their tech habits long before I send them off to college.
Thanks again for starting the conversation!
Sounds like a great plan, Lisa!
Interesting article and conversation. It has always been my opinion that as long as a child is still in high school they are considered a child. However, I also feel that high school is a time to learn how to be an adult. A smart phone is an adult tool and a child should not have access to one. Every parent needs to decide how they are going to teach their child to be an adult. If my child wants a smart phone, they will be paying for it themselves and the service. They know this. We do have tablets and laptops at our house and our kids are allowed to use them but I do set limits. I think a smartphone is ok if you set limits.
I do not own a smart phone because the constant distraction with email notices and I do not need to know everything that is online all the time. In a way I imposed these limits myself. But we need to decide.
It’s all about your paradigm. In my opinion, those who view advancements in technology as irrelevant and unnecessary or with fear and suspicion will be left behind and miss out on some great opportunities that could possibly enrich their lives. Would love for everyone to watch this TEDx presentation from my friend, Scott, who commented above:
Rachel Potter says
I am not a mom. But I am a 20 year-old college student withOUT a smartphone. Growing up in a very affluent area, my sister and I were probably the only ones without smartphones in our entire school/ town (including many elementary students). My parents always told us we could get data/ smartphones once we were willing to dish out the extra monthly costs. I had an Ipod touch (which has wifi capabilities), so I did have quick access to information depending on where I was. I always wanted a smartphone (and still do), but looking back on it, I know that if my parents had just said “okay” and paid for it, I would have felt more entitled. This way, I feel like it is my choice in when I want a smartphone. Yes, there are definitely days where I wish I had a smartphone (googlemaps being a main reason), but it IS possible to grow up in a technology-based world without one. Even with my text/ call phone I find myself a little too attached. That being said, I am NOT against data/ smartphones. I think they are amazing tools, as you said, and am glad all of my friends have them. Also, in these next few years, it is probable that smartphones truly will become a necessity. Schools are starting to allow smartphones and tablets in the classroom to aid in learning. I think in the case of smartphones and teenagers, parents have to know their child and know when/ if a smartphone is truly a smart choice, or just a convenience. As in all things in life, there are good and bad consequences to every decision.
Rachel! How fun to see you on here! So many great points! I didn’t really address the cost issue in this post at all, though clearly that is a big reason why many people don’t get smartphones. (If smartphones had been around when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t have had one for that reason either!) I certainly don’t advocate parents just handing them over to their kids without any kind of stipulations or ground rules, but I do think if the parents and children can work out an arrangement that makes sense for both the purchasing and use, then why not give your kids access to this kind of tool? (Again, teaching them to use it as a tool and not just a toy–though they are fun for that, too! But again, the point of Scott’s TEDx talk is that what seems like just “fun” can actually be extremely creative and productive.) It seems crazy since you are just 20, but I seriously think there is a difference between when you were in high school and now as far as how common smartphones are. The technology is just moving so fast, and like you said, schools are even starting to not just allow, but encourage smartphones and tablets in the classroom as a learning tool. (Which is EXACTLY what my friend Scott is trying to encourage in his TEDx talk.) Anyway, maybe we can talk about it more next week when I get to see you. 😀
Lindsay Smith says
Nooooooooooo! I thought you were on my side Allyson! Just kidding! You make very good points and I always enjoy reading your articles. I do not have a smartphone and have no intentions of getting one. I do think they are valuable tools but really, nobody “needs” a smartphone, just like you said. Yes, they are convenient and are not going anywhere, I’m just not ready to jump on that wagon yet. The main reason being that the majority of people I see at sporting events, out to lunch, out to dinner, at the park with their kids, have their faces stuck in their phones! It makes me crazy to see people ignoring what is actually going on right in front of them, Life! They miss seeing their kid score a goal because they were on Facebook. Or they are only half listening to what you are saying because something on their phone is much more important. I hate seeing kids at the park clamoring for their parents attention only to be ignored by said parent because they just can’t put their phone down. I am pro “experience life.”
Lindsay, you are so funny. You, of all people, should get a smartphone because you would NOT be the mom who missed the goal because you were checking Facebook! Show ’em how it’s done! I am pro “experience life” as well, so I really appreciate what you are saying here. But why not be the person who owns the smartphone and uses all its great resources instead of letting the smartphone own you? That’s what I want for my kids as well, which is why I am pro “experience life” which I think also includes the technology available in 2013!
Roger Waddell says
Great article. Scott is very impressive as well.
Thanks, Dad! Fun to see you on here!
Great article Allyson! I resisted the smart phone idea at first but I have found it to be a valuable tool for my middle schooler (13 years old). She uses it as a planner, putting assignment due dates into her calendar while at school (her teachers encourage it and she shares her google calendar with me so I can see them too, and I share the family calendar with her so she knows what’s going on with the entire family). She also is able to check her grades with the Skyward app so she is able to make sure her assignments are turned in and counted. She has several teachers who require homework to be done and turned in online. This allows her some flexibility when she is not at home in front of the computer. (She could take a Spanish quiz on her phone while at her brother’s soccer game). She can use the Reminder app and Notes to help her keep herself organized. We’ve had our bumps in the road with “time-wasting” apps for sure, but she is learning accountability and responsibility (with help from her parents) by learning to manage her technology use and use it for good! Of course we could live without it but I definitely agree that the time to teach them to manage themselves is when they are still at home! They will eventually use smartphones and other new technology throughout their lives so I think it’s important to “tutor” them at home.
Thank you so much for this, Amy! You just made my point better than I did and with such great examples!
Jesse Weinberger says
You are 100% on point. I’m an Internet Safety Expert and I just recorded this video for CNN’s iReport titled: When Is My Child Ready for a Smartphone? Listen up parents, because you might not get a 2nd chance to avert a very ugly siutation… http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1074466