Parenting

Yes, Kids Need Phones—But They DON'T Need Smartphones

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With technology everywhere these days, it is obvious that our children are enjoying a childhood that is vastly different from our own. Today we can simply speak to a virtual assistant if we want the lights lowered or the air conditioning turned on. When we were kids, desktop computers — for families that even had computers — were behemoths. (Just to print we had to hold down the CTRL and Apple keys, and then type P, P, I.) Now we can print wirelessly from our phones. Speaking of our phones, they do everything, and everyone has one. Right?

Wrong. There is currently a giant debate in the parenting world as to whether preteens should have their own phones. Bullying and inappropriate behavior tends to occur on various social media platforms and in text messages, leaving children who are ill-equipped to manage adult situations on their own. With such technology comes great responsibility, and 12-year-olds aren’t necessarily mature enough to be responsible in such ways.

Writer Jeanne Sager recently penned a piece for The Week about kids and cell phones entitled “Kids need smartphones. Get over it.” Here is her argument, in a nutshell:

In 1999, there were an estimated 2 million payphones on the streets of America. In my hometown, there was one at the gas station, one at the community center, and another in the pullout across from the gas station 5 miles up the road. If you needed to check in with your parents or — more importantly — needed their help, payphones were our only option.

In 2017, payphones are no longer an option at all. The phones at the gas stations are long gone. The community center phone, too. We just don’t need them anymore. Not because our need to communicate has dissipated, but because we’ve long replaced the solitary payphone with individual pocket-sized devices that can call home in an instant. These days I wonder how many kids even know their parents’ phone numbers by heart.

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I want to send my daughter to the movies with her friends, to allow her to stay after school for sports practices, to let her take a class at the local library — all the things that I did as a child with a few quarters jingling in my pocket. Thanks to the cellphone, I can let her do them all. And when she needs me, I’m just a phone call away.

For the most part, Sager is right. We can’t just let our kids loose in the world without the necessary tools to stay safe. There aren’t pay phones on every corner. But smartphones are not simply tools to call home in a pinch. They are portals to the Internet. They are cameras. They are devices for apps like Snapchat and Instagram which are breeding grounds for bullying. If we want to give our children some independence and the ability to reach us if they need to, then they should, by all means, be provided with a phone. Flip phones, as unpopular as they may be among the pre-teen crowd, do exist. And they get the job done.