From what I’ve been told — multiple times, often accompanied by dramatic hand gestures — Riley is the only student in his entire middle school who doesn’t have a phone. Yes, literally every other kid has one, even that one guy who threw his phone on the ground on purpose when he was mad and shattered the screen, even he has a new one. Even his friend’s little sister has a phone and she’s only in third grade. But not Riley! He’s just expected to wander the halls, phoneless, like a total peasant.

I get it, the phone-longing. It’s true most kids do seem to have one, in his grade and even in Dylan’s class. Everyone’s texting, everyone has Instagram and Snapchat and YouTube accounts. Even if Riley wasn’t surrounded by peers with iPhones, he only has to look up in his own house to get the idea that staring at a tiny screen must be a pretty compelling activity.

There are responsibility-related reasons I’m not eager to give him a phone, like the fact that both kids have those Gizmo Gadget watches and we have to nag constantly about remembering to keep them charged or remembering to wear them period. Or the fact that he is famous for dropping, misplacing, spilling liquid into, or otherwise ruining various objects from throw pillows to iPod Shuffles.

But if I’m honest with myself, my reluctance actually has very little to do with the inevitable repair/replacement fee. It’s more about … the potential for unhappiness, I guess.

You know what I mean? The kind of overly-plugged-in life we try not to live when we’re connected 24/7, but it’s kind of a struggle for grown-ass adults so how can we expect kids to manage it? Even with time limits, it’s a siren call that never goes away. The time-wasting scrolling, the endless waves of bite-sized content, the updates and arguments and unrealistic images and misread communications. The pull away from being in the moment in favor of documentation. The increasing fear that if we are not acknowledged with hearts and likes we may not exist at all.

Okay, it’s possible I am getting a little Black Mirror about this when the reality is that he just wants to play Goat Simulator more often. Still, there is a world I am deeply familiar with — the one in which my phone is a bottomless well of distractions, one that allows me to fade out of my real life whenever I want in favor of mental and physical immobility — and there’s a world I can only imagine, where kids’ social lives are whiplashed by each other’s texts and posts and check-ins and jesus, wasn’t it bad enough when the grapevine was limited to whispers in a hallway?

Anyway. Riley is hoping 13 is the magic number for him, phonewise. Me, I’d rather wait … but until when? When is the right age to say here, here is a thing I use all the time, that I sort of never wanted you to have.


27 Responses to “Ring ring, hypocrisy calling”

  1. Melodee on January 3rd, 2018 11:38 am

    I have a 15 year old girl and 19 year old boy and if I had do it again, no smartphones until 16 at a MINIMUM. Tmr daughter’s iPhone opened a Pandora’s box at age 12 that I regret every day.

  2. jennb33 on January 3rd, 2018 11:50 am

    My daughter got hers at 10. The boy will likely follow suit. They are already plugged in. I can only hope that they will learn moderation the way I continue to learn it: the hard way, by themselves. We can’t protect them from this, unfortunately. It is their future.

  3. Scott on January 3rd, 2018 11:58 am

    Goat Simulator is *very* popular in our house. (And Minecraft, natch.) I have mandated that no games be installed on the phone, only on the iPad, which stays at home. Anything that goes on the phone must be for school reasons. So now, when she wants to waste time, she does it by studying languages on Duolingo. Fooled you, kid! You’re learning stuff, not having fun! Ha ha ha ha ha!

  4. Pete on January 3rd, 2018 12:24 pm

    My kids got phones when they could pay for the service (about $35@month). Now they are glued to their devices playing games (they are 20 and 23 years old). It’s hard because EVERYONE has one. It’s easy for me to say but I would recommend against one. Good luck.

  5. Pete on January 3rd, 2018 12:24 pm

    BTW, it’s good to see you posting more often. :-)

  6. Jen on January 3rd, 2018 1:50 pm

    For the first two, once they started middle school, they got a phone. This was more for me, so I could reach them while I was busy picking up their other sibling. Right now they are at three different schools. Neither one of them (almost 16 and just turned 12) are very “into” their phones. The 12 year old leaves hers downstairs a lot, while she’s up in her room and on weekends forgets to even charge it. The oldest is very similar.

  7. Kimberley on January 3rd, 2018 2:27 pm

    Oh my gaaaaawwwwwwwwddddddddd…you have exactly articulated my very thoughts on this. My nearly-12 year old daughter has an iPod Touch – connected only by WiFi – and even THAT is too much, really. Her friend was here for a few days and was constantly, CONSTANTLY checking her phone and it was so annoying and rude. And as I was talking about this with my daughter, I realized my phone was in my hand, and I had glanced at it before our chat, and was compelled to check it again, and OMG THIS IS SERIOUSLY A PROBLEM.

    Earlier last fall, after a bout of fibbing, coupled with a sassy attitude, I took away my daughter’s iPod indefinitely, and she actually seemed to…kind of forget about it for a while? And she seemed so much happier, not having to be in touch 24/7? Once in a while she would longingly mention it but I stuck to my guns for almost three months. Finally, one weekend when my mother was going to be watching the kids because DH and I were going away, I gave it back so we could text a little bit, and since then it’s been back to annoying and…I just feel exactly like what you described in this post. And I have no answers either. So. Misery loves company? Good luck! ox

  8. Bouncy on January 3rd, 2018 2:39 pm

    My older boy is 9 and I am dreading the phone debate because right now I intend to shield us from that until high school which I am sure is going to make every one extremely unhappy.

  9. Sande on January 3rd, 2018 2:40 pm

    While my kid is 7, my hubs and I talk often about this. We both agree to hold out as long as we can. I feel all this digital crap has an effect on their social skills. I see it in my niece and nephew as they got phones at a young age. They can’t hold a conversation if their life depended on it. Well via a digital device they do just fine, but put them in a public setting and have to actually talk to someone…. It’s sad.

  10. Melissa on January 3rd, 2018 3:02 pm

    THANK YOU!!!! For being on this side of it I mean. We have the same conversation with my 10 year old boy and I have told him that once he starts going places where there are NO ADULTS (ie..friends houses after school..but do kids even do that anymore? Jeez) we can start talking about it.

    I’m also trying to put it off for as long as possible.

  11. Honeybecke on January 3rd, 2018 3:53 pm

    Same. My 12 and 10 year old boys want phones and they “are the ONLY ones” that don’t have one.
    I’m just so fretful about it, just as you’ve described. I am also not ready for them to have access to the whole world, the good and the very, very bad.
    Now days before playdates I’m having to ask other parents what their screen time/accessibility to the internet situation is and I find it hard. Because if they say oh, my kid is fully connected and no parental restrictions? That makes me nervous and a little judge-y. Even if I ask them to not have screen time available while my kids are there they inevitably come home singing some random song they heard on a YouTube video they saw while they were there. So yeah it’s hard and I don’t know what to do. I know at some point I need to let go of their hands and let them navigate the good and the bad on their own. This keeps me up at night. Were just not ready yet. I’m waiting until at least high school. They can complain all they want. 🤔🤗

  12. Carla Hinkle on January 3rd, 2018 6:01 pm

    My oldest got one when she started middle school (6th grade). The middle child will get the same. It wasn’t really until 7th that she seemed REALLY into it. I eventually installed an app that lets me limit screen time on an individual app basis (kindle always allowed, the actual phone always allowed, Safari/instagram limited, snapchat never allowed, etc) and also gives her a daily allowance of total screen time.

    I don’t want her to be too phone-involved but at the same time, a LOT of middle school socializing takes place over the phone/apps. I don’t want to be like the parents I heard about when I was a kid, who wouldn’t let their kids talk on the phone or watch tv. So I allow the phone, but I limit it.

    There are not that many apps that let you REALLY tailor screen time/app usage — you can probably find them if you are interested. Of course let me know if you want a recommendation. For me, I wanted her to have a phone, but not unlimited access, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    ALSO I know of some parents that allowed a phone, but not a smart phone. Let the kid have a cheap flip phone, no data plan, for a while and see if they are responsible enough.

  13. Shawna on January 3rd, 2018 7:39 pm

    My daughter is almost 12 and she has an iPhone and an iPad mini. The mini is connected over wifi and that gets way more use than the phone, which is really mostly used as a way of calling or texting her dad and I, either from home or when she’s out and about at friends’ places, or around the neighbourhood either playing/visiting at the park or walking the dog. My kids come home to an empty house for an hour or so, and we don’t have a home phone, so while they could just text us from their minis, if the wifi goes down we want a reliable way to ensure we can be reached.

    I do some random checks of their activity and to make sure their privacy settings on their various accounts are closed, and they’re not allowed to change their passwords without us knowing what they are. But my best line of defence I believe is frequent open dialogue about the internet and social media, and doing my best try to make them smart about the whole thing. My kids are pretty level-headed.

    My 9 year-old son isn’t that interested in a lot of the social-connection stuff (at least, not yet), so the whole thing is not a big deal for him. My daughter though… all her friends have phones to communicate with each other and I really truly believe she would be left out of a lot if she didn’t have that connection. And I want her to have friends. She doesn’t need a lot of them, but every kid needs to feel accepted by at least someone they like.

    I grew up in the country and was very isolated – the only time I really saw other kids was at school and the odd structured activity. Until I finished middle school I really only had one friend. I finally had a regular social group after I made friends with people who had access to cars in high school. I’m amazed at my daughter and how she has a gaggle of girlfriends, and I don’t want to discourage that.

  14. Shawna on January 3rd, 2018 7:41 pm

    Oh, I tried an app to limit their screen time on their minis a couple of years ago, but I never managed to get it to work. It let them on when they were supposed to be done their time; it locked them out when they were supposed to be allowed on. Very frustrating!

  15. Meera on January 3rd, 2018 9:10 pm

    This book and website is pretty great. My kids are still young, into kids YouTube or coloring in apps, so nothing too thorny has come up yet. But Screenwise has some great reassuring stuff and a framework to being thinking about it. Of course I read half of it, then checked Facebook and never got back to it 😂.

  16. el-e-e on January 4th, 2018 6:20 am

    We did iPads last year for our then 12- and 9-year olds. Not sure I’m happy we did, but I feel like we’ve done fairly well limiting the time they’re able to spend on them (none on school nights).

    Now 13-yo was THE ONLY one in school w/out a phone, too, so he got one this year. He’ll need it anyway for high school, I imagine (riding the bus for the first time ever). He also asked for Snapchat and already had Youtube and Insta accounts. I feel unsure about all of it, all the time. No reference from our own childhoods, and all. It’s hard to know what to do.

  17. Tessie on January 4th, 2018 10:27 am

    I went to a Bring-Your-Parent-to-Class thingee at my daughter’s middle school (she’s 11), and I was surprised to find that they USE THEIR PHONES FOR CLASS ACTIVITIES (kids without phones can use computers; there were maybe 3 or 4 in the whole class). They were playing some group math game.

    It really is hard, but also it IS and will continue to be their environment, so I don’t see the point in pretending devices don’t exist. Better to help them manage it and see how it can be harmful (my daughter’s school does a good job with this as well with “digital detox” days, etc.

  18. elizabeth_k on January 4th, 2018 11:54 am

    Oh my oldest is 9 almost 10 and I share all all all of your feelings. Teach us the way, Jedi master! I will follow your lead …

  19. Alex on January 4th, 2018 12:21 pm

    Tell him he can have one when he starts to drive. That seems like a reasonable time to need a phone. I think you’re totally right to delay it.

  20. sooboo on January 4th, 2018 5:12 pm

    I am so grateful to have grown up in a time where you could leave school at school, go home and decompress for a couple of hours before hopping on the phone with friends. I think you’re smart to delay it. Your kids seem to have a lot of interests that I don’t see my friends kids having or the high school kids I have taught. They will thank you later.

  21. Amy G on January 4th, 2018 6:17 pm

    My kids aren’t old enough to be longing for a phone of their own yet. I think when he’s of driving age, it’s nice to have a cell phone. I know most other people have a cell phone but it’s nice to have that personal security blanket.

  22. Mary on January 5th, 2018 6:57 am

    My kids are going on 10 and 12. They got a phone several years ago to share. It was a basic flip phone only so that I could easily reach them when they were playing at various friends houses up and down our street. And so that they could call and check in.

    That worked out well for a year and then my husband and I were upgrading our phones, so we gave each of our kids our old smartphones. So their phones were free to us and it cost us nothing to add them to our plan.

    I love that they have their own phones and we can reach each other easily. They play outside up and down our street at 5 or so different friends’ houses, so it makes it much easier to keep track of them or to call them home for dinner. Sure, they use them to text, play games and some social media, but they aren’t glued to them either. They still enjoy playing with their friends in person and running around outside, much more than sitting at home on their phones.

    My kiddos had tablets prior to their phones and it was the same thing. Sometimes they played with them and lots of times they didn’t. They also hardly watch any tv and hardly play video games. So for us, I knew that having phones wasn’t going to impact their lives very much, and it hasn’t. It has been the perfect decision for our family.

  23. Eve on January 5th, 2018 11:01 am

    You and I are on the same wavelength. I’m delaying this for as long as possible. My fear is not necessarily what my kid would do with the phone, but what other kids could send her/expose her to. Yes, my daughter will most likely be the ONLY ONE without a phone for quite some time, which will be hard for her and will probably lead to all kinds of strife. But this is one of those things that I feel strongly about in my gut. And trusting my gut is something I’ve learned I really need to do.

  24. Chris on January 5th, 2018 12:30 pm

    Our kids are too little to start thinking about it, but we already want to wait until high school. My 2018 goal is to be WAY less plugged into my phone. I can see how it is so damaging for kids today. :/

  25. Andrea on January 5th, 2018 7:56 pm

    Old Fogey alert…
    My kids are all young adults, and have had their own smart phones for years, but smart phones they have purchased on their own.

    When my 25 year old was in middle school, I got one phone for the 3 of them to share. Whoever had an after school activity, or was going somewhere other than a friend’s house where there was no phone, brought it. The other two got their own phones when they started middle school, to manymanymany cries of, “It’s not fair, I had to wait,” from older brother.

    During their middle school years all the social media and other stuff weren’t as in your face, because most middle schoolers didn’t have smart phones.Unlimited texting was the big deal.

    During the school day, when in class, (Middle and High School) the kids were not supposed to be using their phones. At all. For any reason. A lot of teachers had baskets/boxes/cubbies for the kids to drop their phones in as they entered class, and they retrieved them as they exited.

    So my point, and I do have one, is if the interest is in the gaming/social media aspects of a smartphone, their are lots of options for him for out of school use. Sounds like there is already an “emergency alert system” already in place.

    It’s tough to think (as a kid)”I’m missing out, I’m the only kid who doesn’t have….I’m the only kid who doesn’t get to….Everyone but me is….”

    Guaranteed, he is not the only one, and I think this is substantiated by the comments here.

    Adulting is hard. It’s also hard to make boundaries and stick to them. But guess what? You get to make your decision based on whatever you want. You’re the adult.

    A smartphone is a want. Not a need. He’s got all his needs met, and probably has a lot of his wants, too. Sometimes, you just don’t get everything you want. Life lessons :)

    Old Fogey signing off.

  26. April on January 15th, 2018 5:57 am

    My rule has always been ‘when they’re old enough to be without any adults, they can have a phone.’ Which arbitrarily felt like it would be 12 but now I’m thinking of letting my kids ride bikes further away from my house without me and damn, I’m going to need to get a phone for that purpose aren’t I. S turns 10 next month.

  27. Jess on February 12th, 2018 4:39 am

    This is an article I reread whenever I feel a little “bad” that my 12 year old is and will continue to be one of the very few without a smart phone….always validates me in that maybe I’m not so crazy after all….

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