I’ve made a career of technology. I’m an advocate of computer science education programs in our communities and public schools. I use a smartphone, a computer, and dozens of applications and internet resources every day, so it may seem odd that I don’t let my kids have a smartphone.
My eleven-year-old daughter wrote me an impressive, persuasive letter requesting a phone as a school assignment. I wrote her a letter in return. I took the opportunity to tell my daughter how much I love her, admire her, and have been proud of her patient efforts to convince me of her need for a phone. She’s been logical and creative in her approach. I had to give her credit. I have valid concerns, too – screen time, addictive distraction, cyber-bullying, texting, access to inappropriate or dangerous material. My core reason? I want to preserve her childhood. I want her to hold on to her ability to just be. I don’t want a phone taking over the spaces of her life that she fills with her innocence, presence, love of nature, and active pursuits. I don’t want texting and social media to consume the time she spends biking, writing, drawing, storytelling, or playing guitar. I want to spare her the dark side of technology.
So, I was honest. I wrote to her about her cherished childhood and about how much a phone can get in the way of the most joyous parts of life. I used myself as an example. I told her honestly about how technology sometimes consumes my time. I acknowledged my own distractions that she’s often noted with frustration. I reminded her of stories she’d shared with me about friends’ fixation on their phones.
Technology is an important part of our world today. Phones and other technology have brought our lives great benefits. I let her know I understand and support her need to have and use technology. Then I moved on to the real answer she’d been waiting for – when could she have a phone. Instead of an age or a date, I focused on important key concepts directly related to having a phone:
Responsibility – A smartphone is an expensive piece of equipment. It needs to be cared for and used responsibly: communicating maturely and respectfully with others, not bullying or gossiping; making good choices in online content, knowing when something is inappropriate; putting the phone down when it’s time to do other things.
Integrity and Trust – A smartphone gives access to apps and the internet, to communicating with people without parents knowing. With it come temptations and risks such as bullying, sending inappropriate pictures, communicating with prohibited people, and looking at adult content, so strong integrity and trustworthiness must be demonstrated.
Gratitude – A phone is a privilege. Far more people in the world do not have phones than do. A child who lives in a home with a loving family, regular food on the table, and clean drinking water is more fortunate than most. It’s important to be grateful for the things we have. A child who doesn’t recognize good fortune, express gratitude, and share his or her good fortune where possible is not ready to have a phone.
Presence – The greatest gifts we receive are simply our life and time. A phone brings a big potential drain on time, focus, and presence. So showing consistent ability to be present without a phone is a good step toward maintaining presence with a phone.
Money – Phones cost money up-front and every month thereafter, so one must have an understanding of money, value the things it’s used for, make good decisions about money, and be ready to help pay for the phone to be ready to have one.
I gave my daughter clear examples of how she could demonstrate maturity in each of these areas and told her that over the next year, we’d communicate and focus on these things with the goal of showing her readiness for a phone. I told her she could also hold me accountable for the things I was expecting of her. I closed the letter with a reminder of my love and admiration for her. She was happy to have a clear answer and seemed to beam with a sense of satisfaction over how it was delivered.
I don’t know when a child should get a phone. It’s a thorny parenting issue. I’m glad now to have created a clear construct for mature, respectful conversation with my daughter about it. I feel good about having empowered her to work on showing me when she’s ready. I can’t turn back the hands of time to simpler days when smartphones didn’t exist. Hopefully, though, with positive parenting, I can help her learn balance to preserve the simple joys in her life when she’s got her own phone.
Keith Glendon, father to three daughters and a son, a husband and practitioner of joy, always wanted to be a writer. In his early forties, he changed “I want to be a writer” to “I am a writer.” He’s grateful to share his voice with you.
Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.