‘How you help them learn to be present, in a task or with a relationship, is one of the top challenges of our generation. Part of that is going to be saying no.’
I’m one of these parents! I decided years ago, based on everything I’ve read (including books by Jonathan Haidt) to take a hard stance against smart phones for my kids. People told me I would never make it, it’s impossible, it’s unrealistic, etc. Well, my older two kids are 16 and 13 and we’re still going strong. They have Gabb phones so they can be in touch with their friends, but even that is limited. I’ve told them their phones are for staying in touch with me (we live in Manhattan and they get around independently) and for setting up in-person hangouts with their friends. Period. They’ve grumbled at times, but they don’t even ask for smart phones. They’re old enough that I can share with them the articles and research that informs my position, so they understand. They get it. Does my 16yo feel left out sometimes? Yes. She’s kind of in the dark about the social media trends her friends talk about. But she’s also missing out on the drama, the cyber bullying, the self-obsession, and the constant feeling of living your life to display it for others. I want my kids to live their lives for THEMSELVES and the people they actually care about, in their actual orbit.
People often say they give their kids phones and social media at young ages so they can teach them how to use them responsibly, and that it all comes down to trust and communication. Give me a break. How did the rest of us learn to navigate social media and the internet? Here’s how: we were adults with fully developed brains before we got on it. The adolescent brain simply isn’t a good match for social media. All the handholding and trust and open communication in the world won’t make the brain grow faster.
Count me among this group. I have told my friends that I would prefer my kids start smoking than get a smartphone at their ages. They think I’m nuts, but I know cigarettes won’t drive them to suicide and self harm as teenagers. The same certainly can’t be said for smartphones.
I have made abundantly clear that there will be no phones of any kind until they drive, and even then it will be something like the Gab phone. Once they get to college they can get a smartphone which they pay for...I will never pay for it under any circumstances.
I am not an overly strict parent, but this is a hill I will die on. It maybe because I’m not strict that they accept this strict rule about smart phones.
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Good! Keep kids off these damn phones. I think in 30 years we'll look back at 9 year olds on smartphones the way we would look at kids in the 1920s smoking cigarettes.
I've lived in South East Asia for the last few years (I wrote about some of the pitfalls and benefits here https://theunhedgedcapitalist.substack.com/p/the-nomads-escape-life-in-south-east) and there is lots of fucked up shit there. Poverty, corruption, etc.
But the best thing in the world is that I always see gangs of kids running around outside, having fun, no phones in sight. It's kids doing what kids are supposed to do! And it's incredible. It never fails to cheer me up.
Then I come back to America for a visit and I never see any kids outside. Bloody depressing.
My son is now 27. When he was in middle school, many of his friends had cell phones. His mother and I had resisted giving his older sister a flip phone until she was 14, and we stood our ground with our son and gave him a flip phone when he turned 14. By this time some of his friends already had smart phones. When he turned 18 we gave him an iPhone and one of his friends said, "Now you can finally get rid of the Invisible Phone!" He said, "No way, I'm keeping the Invisible Phone forever!" I asked him about the Invisible Phone, and he explained that when his friends made fun of him in middle school when he had no phone, he invented the Invisible Phone that could "do it all." It could shrink and expand. It had better signal, a clearer screen, better audio, and best of all it was 100% unbreakable. To demonstrate he would throw the imaginary phone on the ground, stomp on it, then pick it up and make an imaginary call.
Our daughter and son both thank their mother and me for standing firm. They are both independent adults and we have dinner together as a family 3 or 4 times a month. I encourage the parents in the comments here to stay strong. Short term pain leads to long term gain.
Totally agree but I think the focus on kids is off. This problem spans all ages. My parents are 79 and 84, staring at their phone. My peers, in their 40s and 50s, are the same. 75% of the people I see on the subway or with a moment of idle time waiting in a line, from all walks of life and income levels, are scrolling social media feeds.
I switched to a dumb phone one year ago and I feel certain that I'll never go back. What a difference mentally. I personally wouldn't feel right telling anyone else, even a 7th grader, that maybe they ought to use their phone less, if I still had that smart phone calling to me from my own pocket.
We like to think that we know what makes people tick, but we really don’t.
It’s abundantly obvious that human beings are not made to operate in a digital sphere. What this means for culture and society is beyond me, but I think it’ll all get a whole lot worse before it even has the semblance of getting better.
The future will be unrecognizable to us.
I applaud these brave parents and their ability to say no to peer pressure. I live in a typical suburban school district and have seen firsthand how shallow most parents are. It’s like the parents are still teens and are more concerned with their perceived popularity than with raising children to functional adulthood. One of the worst inventions in the last 20 years has been the concept of the “cool parent”. As others have pointed out social media /smart phones can be as harmful as smoking, teen sex, drinking and drugs. Yet there have always been parents who provide liquor cabinet access, smoke pot at home and shrug at the effect on their kids. On the positive side, social skill incompetence among teens has become so prevalent that if you can protect your child from this scourge they will have a low bar and an easier path to success in an adult, competitive society. Ooops. I forgot. We also seem to be dismantling our adult competitive society. Oh well. No worries. Like Lake Woebegone all of our children will now be above average.
"If it were up to me, I’d flush it down the toilet.”
She's 13 years old...it IS up to you! Do your job and flush the damn thing down the toilet! She will survive. Indeed, she will improve and be better.
Until parents stand up do their job as parents, this phenomenon will get worse. No amount of national psychoanalysis and legislation will fix this problem. The solution starts at home with parents doing their job.
This is a highly addictive device that is designed to be addictive as possible. It literally changes the way your brain/neurons are wired. It is clearly a net negative for our society/culture.
This is encouraging. It’s parents being parents instead of rich friends to their kids.
My 11, 13, and 15 year old daughters do not own phones and have a set time for allowed screen time. They’ve asked for them, and we said…No. They we upset. Their friends have them. But we are the parents and know what is good and bad for them. We let them pitch a fit. That’s what children do. And they haven’t died yet. In fact, they are thriving.
Now, these young ladies have no anxiety, depression, or loneliness. They can hold a conversation with adults and kids alike. They are funny and engaging and curious about the world. Someday they can buy one themselves, but in the meantime, they can use the office lady’s phone to call home (press the button and wait for the dial tone, Honey.)
Psst, if you give them actual tools and some live chickens, it’s just like playing Minecraft, only they accomplish something tangible and earn self esteem.
We waited until twelve. I remember my oldest telling me once that she was once sitting at a table of four, and her other three friends were on their phones texting. Only she was left out, with her only real option engaging in conversation with the people right in front of her. I told her she was the smart one, and even once she did get the inevitable phone, she eventually agreed with me. Both my kids have already said they will wait until at least 12 before giving their kids phones.
Phones turn people--not just kids--into zombies. I work out quite a bit, and am always struck, looking around my gym, how many dull faces are lost in a trance, looking at the soft glow of their handheld addictions. They bring them into the sauna and even the steam room. Many can't bear to be parted even for a moment.
And what is there on the internet? Anything truly satisfying? Not that I know of. Dopamine is simply a reward hormone. It's not a pleasure hormone. It just says "keep doing what you are doing", but it does absolutely nothing to make you happier, and if happiness is a rare property in the addiction you are feeding with regular reinforcing hits of dopamine, then you are training yourself to spend most of the day in an activity that ultimately will make you sad, since we all need to feel happy sometimes.
I feel zero pressure from other parents or kids to get my son a phone. He’s seven now and I don’t intend to get him a smartphone at all. He can get his own when he can afford to pay for it. Probably soon enough we’ll get him one of the fake ones or a jitterbug. I don’t care if he’s embarrassed to pull it out in public. It’s only for emergencies anyway. But I’m not going to have a zombie kid. And I don’t care if he hates me for it. Every single kid I knew growing up who was ‘friends’ with their parents or had parents who were ‘cool’ ended up in a bad situation. I parent my son now so he can be my friend when he’s older. And parenting means being often unpopular with your kid.
We have Bark installed on the phones. It’s a little bit of a pain to set up but you can block sites like TikTok and it alerts you to all their text messages that might have suspect content. It alerted me when a boy one of my kids went to camp with texted porn.
To me, this reflects our society's collective confusion about the ultimate aim of a parent in today's world. I have come to prefer the term "raising children" to "parenting" because it helps me remember to always look through the lens of - "Will XYZ help/hurt the process of my child's development into a stable, functional, contributing adult?" I do not think all parents are operating with this distilled mission in mind, and it can lead to major confusion and distress. They seem to be reacting to everything the modern world is throwing their way, rather than having a North Star guiding them. Parents do not want to "be the bad guy", even though that is often precisely what their kids need.
My nieces (8 & 11) are friends with Riley Nicholson, quoted in the article. They don’t have phones at all. They spend all of their free time outside and they so much better for it. All of the neighborhood kids play together after school and on weekends. My nieces are growing up like I did in the 80’s. I just hope my brother and sister-in-law hold strong for a few more years!