Why We Don’t Let Our Teen Have a Cell Phone

Why We Don’t Let Our Teen Have a Cell Phone

The short answer is that he doesn’t need one. Let’s unpack that statement with some frequently asked questions that we get on this subject.

Are you super old and out of touch?

Depends who you ask, I guess.

We’re both at the upper end of the Millennial generation. We both have smartphones and various social media accounts. We both work with kids and teenagers in our careers. We use computers, phones, and other modern technology frequently for our jobs and have lots of random unnecessary electronic devices in our house. I don’t think we’re too far out of touch.

Aren’t you worried your teen will be isolated from his peers by not having a cell phone?

Not really.

Sure, he has to physically ride his bike or walk to another house and knock on a door when he wants to know if someone is home – or have one of us call their parents – but we don’t find this to be isolating. If anything, we get to know our neighbors much better than we would otherwise because our kid has to make an effort to seek out his friends.

He certainly doesn’t play as many phone/video games as some of his peers, but you will never convince me that that’s a bad thing.

Hey look! Neighborhood friends whose parents know each other having unstructured playtime outside! It’s basically 1950 over here.

Our teen loves mountain biking, skiing, swimming, and working out at the gym. It has never been a challenge to find kids his age who want to do these things with us.

When he can’t find friends to hang out with, his main pastimes are listening to audiobooks from our local library, building things with Legos, and playing with his little brother.

Sand and and rocks and sticks – everything you need for a full day of brotherly bonding.

Are you worried that he won’t have the skills he needs as an adult in the job market because he’s not familiar with technology?

This is perhaps the most valid-sounding argument I’ve heard for young people having their own cell phones, so I want to make this very clear:

Knowing how to operate a cell phone as a child and knowing how to use relevant modern technology for your career as an adult are not the the same thing.

Our teen is getting lots of exposure at school and at home to typing, coding, robotics, 3D printing, voice-to-text software, etc. Those are all likely to be useful skills for his generation. Knowing how to use a selfie filter is not.

Smartphone operation takes zero skill, and it can be learned in a matter of minutes. Our toddler can work a smartphone, and so can everyone else’s little kids. This is not because we all have baby Einsteins. This is because smartphones are designed by teams of brilliant engineers and cunning advertisers to be incredibly intuitive for anyone who picks one up.

Even some of the intermediate-level tech skills can be learned quickly and easily. My particular degree involved zero classes about websites (the closest I got was a class on technical writing in 2003), and yet I built this little website myself and learned basic coding after watching a few online videos (Shout-out to Gigi Griffis’ DIY Website course and Khan Academy’s free coding tutorials).

And if our teen does want to do something with technology that is much more advanced like radiology or software engineering, we fully support that. He can spend as much time as he wants taking relevant classes or shadowing people who already have those jobs.

Our child would not be at an advantage in any competitive field as an adult because he had a cell phone as a teenager.

Our teen understands algorithms well enough to do this in under 2 minutes. I don’t lose any sleep over the fact that he doesn’t have mad selfie skills.

Don’t you worry about locating him when you’re not sure where he is? What if there’s an emergency? You could let him have a flip phone so you can find him when you need to or he can call you if something bad happens.

This is true – and we do occasionally worry about him – but the reality is that getting him a phone for that reason would be the same as getting life insurance on him: a purchase based on irrational fear of a super unlikely event.

We understand the risks of the activities we undertake as a family and the things we allow our kids to do.

We don’t let our kids to wander the woods all alone miles away from everyone or go inside houses belonging to people we don’t know. Some boundaries are just common sense, and they’re important for kids to understand regardless of whether we give them a phone.

Our teen is rarely apart from us for reasons other than hanging out with friends (or cousins or grandparents or teachers/tutors), so it’s very rare that at least one adult doesn’t know where he is.

Not to be too macabre, but if something truly catastrophic happened while he was away from us, it’s unlikely that him owning a flip phone would make much difference.

In the much-more-likely scenarios like bike crash injuries (this happened yesterday!), our teen and his friends know how to find a responsible adult and ask for help – just like kids have done for hundreds of years before them.

Our teen and some of his younger friends practicing fire safety at a bonfire they helped build.

But did you know you can get phones for your kids for (some relatively low amount)?

Yes, we’re pretty in tune with the costs of cell phone ownership. If we wanted our teen to have the latest and greatest smartphone and the most powerful cell service available, we would buy those things for him. It’s not a cost issue.

How do you handle the constant begging and whining for a phone?

The same way we handle our toddler’s crying-face-down-in-the-kitchen drama over not being allowed to have cookies before dinner: calmly and firmly.

With our teen, we try to make it about the fact that we have to make the decisions for him and his brother that we think are right, because that is our job for now. BUT when they are 18 and living on their own and taking care of all their own bills, they can get good jobs and buy as many phones as they want (or eat as much dessert as they want, or stay up as late as they want, or whatever the current complaint is about).

Teenagers and toddlers generally feel the same way about their parents’ rules: it’s not FAIR!!!

What about school assignments that require the internet?

He uses our laptops, and does his work at the dining table. Similar deal if he needs to make a call or send a text; he can use our phones to talk, text, or video chat when he needs to, but he does it downstairs with all of us around (not up in his room behind closed doors).

What about when kids are all hanging out together looking at their photos and playing phone games and just being kids? Doesn’t your son feel left out?

Those kids are looking at porn. Don’t be naive.

Can’t you see that kids having phones is normal???

Yep. We understand how statistics work. We know the average age for kids getting their own smartphones is 10 years old (and dropping each year) and that 70+ percent of kids our son’s age have one.

Here’s the thing though: It’s also normal for young people to be overweight, to suffer from depression and anxiety, to spend very little time outdoors, and to not eat dinner regularly with their family. These things are all normal. None of them are good.

There are a TON of studies linking the above issues (and many much scarier problems) to overuse of technology in general and smart phones in particular.

Doing something you wouldn’t do otherwise (including making a significant parenting decision) because it’s “normal” is succumbing to peer pressure. Peer pressure is as stupid now as it was when we were in junior high.

If you don’t want your teen to have a cell phone, don’t let them have a cell phone.

For the same price as a mediocre smartphone and one year of regular cell service, you can get your teen and yourself some really nice mountain bikes or hiking gear and GET OUTSIDE AS A FAMILY.

You can thank me later.

Quality time with Dad – and not a cell phone in sight!

8 Replies to “Why We Don’t Let Our Teen Have a Cell Phone”

  1. Perfect! I have said that I’m glad I’m not raising children in this age of smart phones. I’m glad to see that you carry some of the same values I did when my kids were teenagers and cell phones were just becoming commonplace. I remember my youngest son telling me he was embarrassed to pull out his flip phone at high school to call me. I was never so proud in my life LOL My favorite line : Those kids are looking at porn. Don’t be naive.

    1. Haha I have SO much respect for that move of getting your son a phone he was embarrassed to use in front of other people! That’s a real “emergencies only” cell phone! πŸ˜€ Thanks for reading and commenting, Gina! πŸ™‚

  2. love this! If I was a mom I would be doing this as well… I wish there were more parents in this world like u!

    1. Thanks so much for the compliment!!! πŸ˜€ Luckily, I think there are a quite a few parents catching on to what a serious problem phones can be for kids… But it’s an uphill battle, for sure.

  3. Yes…porn…good honest reasoning. That is my number one reason why my teenager does not have a phone or tablet device and all things are password protected. The neighborhood kids exposed him to rated M video games…so thanks for that. My child isn’t ready for the responsibility even if I wanted to give him one. Everyone else has a phone so he can call us if he needs us.

    1. Seriously. The rest of the issues pale a bit compared to the amount of inappropriate media (and people) online. πŸ˜›

  4. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed your blog, and I LOVE this post so much! Thank you for articulating common sense so well, cause Lord knows this culture needs it! LOL xoxo

    1. Christy your comment made my day!!! πŸ˜€ Thanks so much for reading and commenting! So glad you’re enjoying the blog! πŸ™‚

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