Delaying The Smartphone: Why Waiting Might Be Best For Your Teen


Delaying The Smartphone: Why Waiting Might Be Best For Your Teen

Is parenting in this age of tech near impossible or is it just me?

There are so many decisions to make from the time your babies exit the womb:

  • Should I even let them see the TV?
  • Should they watch any shows before two?
  • What shows are OK? Educational?
  •  Will I lose my ever-loving mind if I don’t just put kids in front of a movie and rest for 30 minutes?
  • And perhaps the worst question for me…when should they get a phone?

It feels like there are just so. many. factors. involved in the choice over a phone.

I have two teenagers: a 15-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. So I’m going to tell you what we’ve done with them and where I think we’ve succeeded and failed.

Our 15-year-old daughter was already messaging her friends on Messenger Kids by fourth or fifth grade (on a heavily protected Amazon Kids tablet, and with parent-approved contacts). As she was entering sixth grade (in the middle of a pandemic, no less), we got her what we’d call a “stupid phone”: an old-school flip phone that could only call and text and barely had a camera. Yes, it even had the old keyboard where you have to press a number three times to get the letter C.

When this phone died after less than a year, we went to one of the starter phone models (Gabb, in this case) that look more like a smartphone but basically have the same capabilities — with a slightly better camera and a smartphone “keyboard.”

By her eighth grade year, we had switched to another company with a similar phone: Troomi. At the time, Troomi was the only one of these companies where you were able to upgrade to having some kid-safe apps and a browser if you wanted. It also has a parent portal that allows you to see all of the texts and pics your kids are sending and receiving.

Finally, this past spring, as a second-semester freshman, our daughter begged to be able to upgrade to an iPhone. And because she’s proven herself trustworthy with tech at this point and the cost difference wasn’t that much, we let her. With the caveat: no social media.

We got our 13-year-old son a Troomi phone at the same time we got the one for our daughter, for two reasons: 1. As a new company, they were running a promotion with my boss where we got the actual phones for free; and 2. We don’t have a home phone and we wanted to be able to leave him home alone without worrying about him not being able to communicate.

He’s had this phone for about two years, and the majority of the time he ignores it. He doesn’t take it to school, although it is nice for him to have it when he travels without us so he can stay in touch and take pictures. As he’s getting a little older and entering eighth grade, he’s started texting more and uses it to listen to music, but I remain really thankful he’s not attached to it constantly like many kids are.

The Good

  • I’m glad my kids can communicate easily with their friends.
  • I like that they have a way to call in an emergency if they’re home alone.
  • Being able to take pictures with your phone is, in my opinion, basically the best thing about carrying around these tiny computers in our pockets. They have so many great pictures from their growing-up years; I have 300 awful ones I took on disposable cameras and maybe two good ones.
  • For my very anxious child, having the phone at school makes her feel comforted in case there is a shooting or emergency.

The Bad

  • My kids can communicate easily with ME. Ha. Yes, this is generally not a bad thing, but sometimes I just wish they couldn’t. I don’t need to know every time my daughter has a stomachache at school. It makes it super simple for them to tell me they forgot their homework or lunch at home.
  • And it’s easy — impossibly easy — for miscommunication to happen through texting, where you’re not getting tone of voice to help you understand.
  • Even without the Internet, they can be glued to a phone and text endlessly, when you’re wanting to talk or eat dinner or watch a movie in peace.

The Ugly

  • Even without social media, my kids have still managed to make some ugly mistakes at ages 12 and 13 with technology.
  • They are great kids, good students, polite, lovely people. But at 12 and 13 and 14 (and onward…) kids make bad decisions. Their brains are nowhere near fully developed, they struggle with impulse control, and peer pressure is insane.
  • My kids have made mistakes that hurt other people and themselves using phones and computers. I won’t air their dirty laundry, but it’s happened.
  • I don’t know that any child really needs a cell phone before 13 or maybe even later. I wish I had held off longer, especially with my daughter.

I’ve learned recently that Alexa can make emergency calls and even call parents — something I am definitely researching! My 11-year-old son, who is entering 6th grade, will definitely not be getting a phone, so I plan on making good use of that if we can.

Someone is *always* around who has a phone. Kids can use an office phone at school or ask a friend to use their phone, and it’s not a big deal.

And quite honestly, the downfalls may outweigh the good parts.

Three-quarters of teens feel “happy or peaceful” when they don’t have their phones with them. (Pew survey, 2024).

Teens get notifications between 230 and 5,000 times a day (!) (Common Sense Media, 2023).

“The members of Generation Z (born in and after 1996) are suffering from anxiety, depression, self-harm, and related disorders at levels higher than any other generation for which we have data,” writes Jonathan Haidt, author of the new book The Anxious Generation.

With the threat of surgeon general warnings on smartphones and places across the country starting to ban phones at school, I think we all know there’s a problem.

I recently listened to a podcast with Joey Mascio, who said, “We don’t know how not to give teens smartphones.” Isn’t that the truth?! We held off what felt like a long time, but my daughter was being ridiculed at school for not having a smartphone (and also for having an Android, #eyeroll).

Obviously I don’t have all of the answers, just a little bit of experience. But I do think we’d all be wise to hold off a lot longer on smartphones and especially on social media. Giving kids unlimited access to the Internet and social media when their brains are still so goofy isn’t doing anyone a lot of good. (And quite honestly, it’s not great for adults either, but it’s such a hard habit to break!)

If you really want your kid to have a phone but not a smart one, I’d highly recommend looking into one of the kid-safe phone companies: Gabb, Troomi, and Pinwheel are the ones I know of.

Thanks for listening to my TED talk. 😉


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