Do I Get My Kid a Smartphone? (Episode 256)
Should your teen - or tween - have a smartphone? How about younger? When is the "right" time to introduce devices in your home, and how do you keep them from taking over? Below we share some infographics on smartphones, and share our insights navigating screens with all three of our girls. Plus, our daughter Elle joins us to share how she went from begging for a smartphone to being a-okay without one.
The Extremes of Smartphones
Smartphone usage is way up, especially since the pandemic. According to research by Northpoint Washington, Pew Research, Tiger Mobiles and Twigby, they compiled some statistics on just where we're at in 2022.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 37% of users are saying they are texting more. 32% are video calling more. And the online shopping app usage is up 23% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And beyond that -
What is your purpose?
As we shared in the podcast episode, Elle and Juliette went to a camp at the Y, and it was a pretty enlightening experience for them as they realized how vastly different their worlds were from some of their friends. As they all asked for our daughter's TikTok accounts and what their online presence was, our daughters weren't quite sure how to connect. When my daughter talked about "grounding", the kids had no idea what that was.
There is a whole world online that is continuing to be built and created to suck you in and sweep you away. However, there is this physical world as well - and the question is, how well do you stay connected there?
It's not that smartphones and other devices are bad. We have a computer, ipad and/or smartphone for everyone in our home - it's part of our schooling and work. What shows up as "excessive use"?
I know I, personally, can struggle with impulse control. And wow, especially when it comes to smartphone usage! Have you ever gotten sucked into an Instagram reel, the autoplay of one Tik Tok video after another, or getting lost in Reddit to be "in the know?" Are you truly monitoring your time, and how often it's interrupted to look at one little thing online (only to be sucked into one entertaining video after another). Just check out these distractions:
What's controlling you?
Are your smartphones tools for information or connection, or distractions from what really matters? Have you used it as a babysitter so much your child relies on it for their fulfillment versus meaningful interactions in real life?
Are you setting the example of what you want your child to emulate, or are you the biggest culprit? Don't expect them to start their day out with a book while you're hopping on Instagram (yep, I'm 100% guilty). They will model what they see you doing!
Pay attention to whether you feel in control of your time, period. How much has technology added to your life vs. caused distraction and overwhelm? Have you considered that it's not just about opening the door to technology for our kids, it's also important that we're helping them learn to navigate it?
That has been the most concerning to me. The number of parents who let their children have smartphones, and yet don't walk them through any navigation of it. Are your children aware of clickbait, grooming, and the reality of addiction?
Our daughter Elle (or Ellie - we've always called her Ellie Rose, but she's recently preferred to go by Elle) gave her insights as to why she shifted her thoughts on smartphones. Teens and smartphones seem to go hand-in-hand, and yet she's experienced the real life rejection and disconnection of friends who opted for that to be their primary focus over the life right in front of them.
To Elle's point, the world of virtual reality has allowed us to find escape and joy no matter our circumstances. There are people who are able to get a recharge in the mountains through a virtual reality set when they are stuck in a city. Yet. Is it really the same?
In the virtual world, you can create avatars to look like and do anything you want. Yet are you comfortable in your own skin? Are your children?
Elle used to beg for a phone. She saw the endless fun of having a bottomless bucket of entertainment, and she craved her own to dive into.
And then, we started having lots and lots of conversations. We talked about how you can't believe everything online, even down to the people who may say they are one thing and are in reality very different. We talked about getting lost down a bunny trail, and we did time inventories to see how much time we were really spending on them.
And the biggie - we paid attention to how we acted and felt after vegging out on our smartphones. It was like coming up for air after being sucked into a spiral cloud of intensity. She started to recognize those feelings of losing control of time and space as she's looking at a device didn't feel as great as the feelings of climbing a tree and looking around. She started to notice her lack of patience and more aggressive behavior after she'd been vegging out with a smartphone.
"People can get sucked so much in the virtual world and live there. I love the life I'm living in reality, so that's my first focus."
Before you have your children take their smartphones and other devices behind closed doors, get super clear on how well they can navigate it and be responsible for managing their impulses.
At 41 years old, I know I can get lost in looking at one more silly video or one more fascinating story online. I have to be careful with parameters to keep me in check, like not having my social media tabs open while I'm writing a blog post like this one, for example! I know it's too easy for me to see a little notification and get sucked in, and before I know it, thirty minutes have passed!
My daughter is twelve. She works hard to stay focused. And, she's human. She's impulsive. She's working on maturity and self-understanding as she grows. And I'm a-okay with helping her along the way, by laying out some boundaries and parameters around how to get the most out of a smartphone without it owning you in the process.
Set Some Standards
Before you give your children free reign, it's walking through all the dynamics of how well they know themselves, their impulses, and how to navigate it effectively. There are times where it's completely healthy to have a phone be off-limits. When it's bedtime, it's not just children who struggle with sleep when they are glued to smartphones.
What are some standards of ownership where they step into responsibility with their smartphone devices? It can be way easier to open the door a little at a time than to try to wrangle back in a child who has had free reign on their own.
- Do they know what the cost is for a smartphone and what you're paying for in regard to data and calls? Do they know what the cost of the phone is? Have you clarified their investment in the process? If not monetarily, then how are they checking in with you on the device that isn't fully in their ownership? The more they have "skin in the game" and feel a responsibility for their device, the higher likelihood they will respect it and your guardrails.
- Do they know what apps are on their smartphone, how to use them in a healthy way, and how you earn/gain access to any additional apps?
- Do you have checkpoints for how much time might be too much, or certain times when phones are to be put down (like dinner and in the bedroom, for example)?
- Do you have an open relationship with your child where they will come to you and share with you about anything they encounter online? Are they willing to share with you what they are doing and what they're on their phones for? If not, this is a process that is built by earning that trust. The more open they are with what they are doing, the more you are working together to ensure they are getting a great experience vs. getting in over their heads, or lost in something that isn't serving them well.
- Are they aware of the impact of social media, how quickly things can go viral, and how easily anyone can find out about them online?
These are all questions to address with your children, and get a read on how well they truly understand what they're getting into. The more they understand the weight and expense of these little devices, the more they can take ownership in being a good steward of how to use them as well.
What Else Can A Tween/Teen Enjoy?
Elle shared some of her loves that she's gotten involved in that are beyond a smartphone:
- Simply playing outside
- Listening to podcasts/audiobooks
- Fostering shelter animals (so entertaining)!
- Going for a hike
- Skateboarding/roller skating, etc
- Building forts/fairy houses/lean-tos
- Board Games
- Visiting parks (or other areas of interest)
Teens and tweens have way more in life than just smartphones. Yes, there are kids out there without a Tik Tok account, without smartphones, and ones who are very plugged in to nature, or books, or something beyond the online world.
What are you going to do right now, moving forward? Pay attention to where you are in life right now. Yes, you have different variables, and you may need to backtrack a bit because things have already gotten out of hand.
It doesn't mean all is lost. Today is a new day. Tomorrow is a clean slate. What are you going to create?
Seek those elements of joy and purpose and those top priorities no matter where you are.
You can have all the crazy going on in your life right now, and you can choose today, right after you've finished reading this and/or listening to the podcast, to go outside, take your shoes off, and really experience grounding yourself.
Sit and stop. Soak in the senses. Imagine every sense. Close your eyes, and go through every sense. What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you taste? What do you feel? End with what you see - the beauty around you that can bring in gratitude for something simple, pure, and beautiful.
Those moments of appreciating what is are beautiful recharges in your day. And when you start to notice them, you start to crave more of that. And that right there has been our biggest reset. When we get in a rut of movies every night, it really affects us. We've noticed how grumpy we can get. How we can have shorter patience with one another. We notice that we're nicer and calmer when it's not the main focus of our lives.
Look beyond the screens to things that bring you joy in the reality of this physical world. You can always expand to bring in the online world. Yet when you keep the joy of the present world in focus, it keeps bringing you back to a center that is truly who you are. Where you spend your time is a direct reflection of your priorities.
Pay attention to your kids this week. Really see them, listen to them, talk with them, and learn with them. And, of course, celebrate how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.
Dig Deeper with These Posts and Episodes:
- Feeling Good…or Fulfilled? (Episode 172)
- Enjoy the silence
- Think Three Times, Speak Only Once (Episode 46)
- Back To Basics – with Goals and Life! (Episode 129)
- Have Life Seasons Got You Stuck In A Funk? (Episode 179)
- True Parent Struggles: Screentime (Episode 90)
- Connecting, Screen-time, Challenges and Overwhelm (Episode 72)
- The Case for Screen Time
- Lessons Learned After 200 Episodes (Episode 200)