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Switch To Dumb Phone: A Smart Option for Your Middle Schooler?

Does your middle school son or daughter really need a smartphone? Or would old school flip or dumb cell phones be a better choice for a twelve-year-old?

When my son entered middle school, I wanted to be able to text him to let him know I would be late for school pickup or have him be able to reach me if he needed a ride from lacrosse. But he’d always been a “screen guy,” so there seemed to be no reason to offer him a tempting computer in his pocket because I knew where that would go. A flip phone with talking and texting capabilities would be enough, right?

My kid wasn’t happy, and the salesperson looked at me like I was crazy. But the store finally produced a no-frills phone, which my sixth grader carried for a year until we upgraded him to the coveted smartphone.

Stupid Phones vs Smartphones

If it seems like all phones are actually mini computers, that’s because, well, they mostly are. In fact, research firm eMarketer found that among teens aged 14-18 who owned a phone, 87 percent had a smartphone. Only 13 percent had another type of mobile phone. But you can find them: Dumbphones, also known as feature phones, can be found on Amazon for as little as $45, with monthly service running about $25 for unlimited talk and text.

However, a dumbphone isn’t necessarily the only answer, especially for parents who want to offer a hand-me-down phone. “You can strip down the functionality so there’s not an overwhelming array of apps,” says Devorah Heitner, PhD and author of Screenwise: How to Help Kids Thrive (and Survive) in their Digital World. If you do decide to block certain apps, consider granting access from, say, the family computer. In this way, they are not totally in the dark. These days lots of plans are made via social media, and cutting them off completely might not be the answer.

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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