Whenever my wife and I get new phones (about every three years), we allow our children to believe that our old phones belong to them. If you were to ask our six-year-old son, he would proudly declare, “I have a smartphone!” Our eleven-year-old daughter has caught on, both to the fact that the device is no longer a phone nor is it hers in any meaningful sense. From Monday through Friday, the no-longer-connected-to-a-network-phones remain in my possession. On Saturday morning, our kids happily retrieve them from me. Even then, we only allow them to play games on the devices for two hours. The scene repeats itself Sunday afternoon.
Looking at the statistics about kids and technology and simply paying attention to the world around us, my wife and I have concluded that our technology rules are not the norm. Many parents seemingly exercise very little (if any) control over their children’s technology use. Our kids notice it, too. If our rules are considered draconian, we’re fine with that. What’s more, and doubling down on our draconianness, we will not be buying our kids smartphones until they’re adults (at that point, they can buy their own).
For the life of us, we can’t understand why any parents would allow their children to have a smartphone, much less purchase it for them. The research has been rolling in, and the overwhelming conclusion is that smartphones and kids make for a bad mix.
Most recently The Atlantic published an article written by Jean Twenge hashing out current research that should cause all parents to sit up and take note. Among many concerning points, Twenge writes, “There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.” Here in the PJ Media Parenting section, Phil Baker provides an excellent summation of The Atlantic article, so I won’t rehash the whole thing again (I encourage you to check out Baker’s article by clicking here). One more thing that I will comment on from Twenge’s article is this statement which, frankly, I find puzzling: “I realize that restricting technology might be an unrealistic demand to impose on a generation of kids so accustomed to being wired at all times.”
If Twenge had written, “I realize that prohibiting technology might be an unrealistic demand,” I would agree. Children need to be taught how to appropriately interact with technology and they also need to be literate in how to use technology. Except Twenge wrote “restricting.”
By no means is restricting technology “an unrealistic demand to impose” on children. Restricting technology will be unpopular, that’s probably a definite. It’s definitely unpopular in our house; our kids would love nothing more than for my wife and I to loosen up our restrictions on their technology use. This may be a good time to point out that our kids aren’t allowed to watch TV during the week, and we have zero plans to replace their Wii that broke almost two years ago. Like I wrote above, draconian.
Our kids’ unhappiness caused by our rules about technology is not a variable that my wife and I consider. Simply put, that’s because we’re the parents. Likewise, if left to their own devices, our kids’ diet would consist mainly of cheese puffs, pizza, and ice cream. As the parents, we ride herd on our children’s diets. I think most parents understand that restricting their child’s diet is an important part of the job of parenting. It’s hard for me to understand why many parents resist acknowledging that restricting technology is par for the parental course, specifically not allowing kids to have a smartphone.
The evidence overwhelmingly points to the conclusion that it is in the best interest of children for them to not have a smartphone. In another recent article, Philip Yancey lamented how technology is killing reading. Furthermore, and possibly more important, Yancey believes this leads to a threat to the soul. For my wife and I, restricting our kids’ technology, even severely restricting, seems like a no-brainer. Like almost all parents, we want to place our kids in the best position to succeed and provide them the tools to do so. If we relented to their occasional whining and complaining and altered our technology rules, we would be doing so for our sake, not for their sake. Making our lives easier at the expense of our children’s well-being and future would be bad parenting. Standing firm and limiting their technology, including our “no smartphone” rule, isn’t always easy, but we stand firm because we love our kids.
One final thought, if your kid needs a phone for some reason, buy a “dumb” phone. They may hate it, but your job is to be their parent and not their friend.