“My daughter is thirteen and doesn’t have a cell phone.” I said those words from the stands at a women’s event and was surprised by the sharp inhalation from around the room. I’m not naive enough to believe that my daughter isn’t an anomaly. I know that most kids their age are already familiar with social media, texting and the big world that a cell phone offers. I know that when she leaves school for the day, there will be dozens of conversations over Instagram, Snapchat, and texting that she is not privy to and never finds out about, except when hinted at at the lunch table, where she is just smiles and nods, although she’s probably lost on something that transpired between her friends at ten o’clock the night before.
But I’m surprised to learn that many parents feel they don’t have the option to provide their children with a cell phone. On the day I made my shocking confession, the attitude of the other moms in the room seemed to be: She doesn’t have a cell phone? You can do that?
why yes you can And I would argue that in most cases you should.
Now, before you start thinking that our children are living in the Middle Ages, we have electricity and running water. And our two older children have iPods. They don’t have internet access or texting privileges with their friends, but they are allowed to FaceTime and text their grandparents and cousins. They play games on their iPods, make movies, learn how to take and edit photos, and generally enjoy many fun technology benefits through their devices. I’m not against technology. But I believe in the benefits of protecting my kids from social media and unrestricted internet access. Yes, I said shelter. Contrary to popular belief, children need protection from some things.
A few days ago a couple of mothers with younger children asked me about our eldest’s cell phone and when I told them she doesn’t have one they said, ‘We were hoping you could tell us how you’re doing with all the technology and the social media bypasses the media world with your kids.” So, this isn’t really for the parents whose kids already have phones, although I hope it will help you think through some of the issues surrounding phone use. It’s for those of you who are wondering how you’re going to approach this issue with your children as they grow older. Essentially, I’m going to explain a few reasons why Chad and I decided to delay our kids’ access to phones.
4 reasons why my teenage daughter doesn’t have a cell phone
1. The Internet is a vast world full of strangers who can enter your home without your invitation.
We often have a false sense of security when it comes to the Internet. We think of it as a tool when in reality it’s a huge collection of people we don’t know. I would never encourage my kids to find a stranger at the grocery store and hang out with them in a private room, but in many cases the internet is leading our kids to do this. It can be a very dangerous place where predators and people with bad intentions can learn all sorts of information about our children. It can be a place where people we don’t know can have a tremendous impact on how our children think and feel.
When we show our kids phones, we expect them to try to navigate this complicated online world before they have the cognitive skills to make informed decisions. Studies show that their brains are literally underdeveloped when it comes to decision-making until around the age of 25. So imagine the inability of a fifth or sixth grader’s brain to understand how to react to the various situations that can arise in the vast internet world filled with strangers.
2. The internet is a big world full of people your child knows who can enter your home without your invitation.
When you’re a middle school student, no world seems bigger than what you live through in seventh or eighth grade. Phones allow this world to have access to children 24 hours a day. I like the fact that my home is a sanctuary for my kids. The only children allowed within these walls are the children I invite, and this is important to my children’s mental and emotional health.
If they had a terrible problem with someone at school, if they had a problem with a bully or a group of “friends” who would suddenly turn against them if something embarrassing happened at school that day, then my know Children, if they go to my car when the bell rings, they are free from all this, at least until they come back onto campus the next morning. They don’t have to worry about the bullying that will follow them home. They don’t have to worry about receiving mean messages or letting someone post something terrible on their social media accounts.
Even when there are no problems at school, when absolutely no drama is happening, I enjoy knowing that school hours are for friends and afternoons and evenings are for family. Your child’s time at home needs more protection than you probably think. The constant socializing on the internet leads to all sorts of problems in children, including lack of sleep, depression and even suicidal thoughts. You don’t need a constant connection with everyone. They need a real connection with their family at the end of each day. Phones make this difficult.
3. The Internet encourages children to brand themselves.
I keep coming across funny collections of horribly photoshopped pictures that teenagers have posted on the internet. It makes us laugh, but the truth is, kids feel pressure to create a certain image of themselves on social media. It’s the same reason so many take and post ten selfies a day. They seek recognition and try to build a brand. They want their name to be associated with beauty, fitness, sexiness, or casual cool, or whatever else they feel will get them likes and followers and the attention they crave.
For children, social media only complicates the work of figuring out who they are and who they want to be. They can obsess over themselves, their image, their approval ratings. And the last thing a middle school student needs help with is to be self-obsessed. Delaying social media immersion gives children a chance to develop an understanding that the internet is not real life. It can be a fun place to play, but not a place to live. And if we give our kids more time to develop a real sense of themselves, who they are and what their own standards are, then they will become less obsessed with how they are seen on social media. You will not see yourself as a brand, but as an authentic person who is much more than a one-dimensional image on a screen.
4. The internet is where porn lives.
It almost goes without saying that cell phone pornography is a big issue and not taken seriously enough. Some studies now suggest that the average age of first exposure to porn is nine years old. Third grade. I’m in no rush to put this industry in the hands of my kids, even with filters and accountability software, especially since pornographers are actively targeting children to ensure their industry continues to thrive. Porn addiction deeply affects the brain, body, heart and mind, and phones are the easiest way for the industry to reach kids, either on their own phones or someone else’s.
There are so many other issues that I haven’t addressed here, but these are some of the reasons Chad and I are waiting to get our oldest daughter a phone. I don’t know when we’ll feel the time is right, but I pray she has time to grow in Christ and learn her own heart and mind before she dives into the realm of social media. I pray that she develops decision-making skills that will help her not be seduced by requests for photos. This will give her wisdom that will keep her from writing things about people that she will later regret. I pray that she will learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit instead of being guided by an obsession with herself or an obsession with the approval of others.
I know that many of you reading this have given phones to your children and have done so with great foresight and judgement. I know that many of you have taken safety precautions and monitor your child’s phone usage and navigate the internet world wonderfully with your children. Those of us who aren’t there will need a lot of guidance from you.
For those who have younger children, please consider some of my reasons for holding off on giving our kids phones. You don’t have to give your child a phone just because other people are doing it. I believe there are great benefits in waiting until children have matured a little, grown a little more in their relationship with Christ, have a firmer understanding of who they are and what they believe, before they really come to terms with it have to deal with the complicated world of the Internet. Life is easier without the constant noise of the world in your child’s pocket. Your teenager doesn’t have a cell phone. I’m in no hurry to let the noise in.
This article on Why My Teen Doesn’t Have a Cell Phone originally appeared hereand is used with permission.