My tween asked me countless times when she’ll be getting a phone. Hardly a week went by that she didn’t ask.
“Everyone in my class has a phone and all my friends have their phones too,” she said, trying to convince me.
To which I always replied, “It’s not yet time for you to own a phone.”
She let me be for a while, then resumed her demands. It was exasperating. But then one day I realized simply telling her “no” wasn’t enough — I needed to let her know why.
The next time she asked for a phone, I engaged her in a deep discussion. I told her my main reason for refusing to get her a cell phone was because there were two other teenagers in our community who struggled with using their cell phones responsibly, and I was afraid she would make similar mistakes and be harmed.
My Experience with Teens and Cellphones
The first incident involved a 15-year-old girl. This girl’s aunt visited the girl’s home one afternoon and noticed her niece engrossed in watching something on her phone. The aunt peeked over her niece’s shoulder to see what the girl was watching and was shocked to discover it was hardcore porn. It turned out that her niece had been viewing porn for a while and now she was addicted to it.
The second incident occurred with a teenager who went to church with a phone and played with it all during prayer services. When he was asked to set his phone aside and focus on the ongoing church activity, he flew into a mad rage and caused a great scene.
I told her that these two teenagers had not learned how to navigate the potential dangers of cellphones and were not using them appropriately. I gave her my best analogy: The online media space is like a deep forest with animals that are wild and dangerous and others that are tamed. My job was to give her proper guidance so that she could navigate through that jungle and stay safe.
Aside from those two incidents with the teenagers in our community, I shared more of my concerns. I told my daughter I was worried about how a cellphone might contribute to a decline in her academic performance, interrupt her sleep patterns, and negatively impact social interactions.
But also, if she could show me she was responsible enough to use a cellphone safely, then we could discuss our family’s cellphone boundaries and draft a media plan.
Setting Boundaries for Teens and Phones
Together, we agreed on the age when she would receive a phone and we set up a detailed blueprint of where, when, and how she would use it. So she would not always be on her phone, she promised to still do other activities like painting, reading, journaling, playing board games, and having social interactions with family and friends. Our media plan also included consequences for breaking the terms: my daughter would lose her phone privileges for a season. Last, we agreed to review our contract together periodically, in case it wasn’t working or if circumstances had changed.
By the time we finished drafting the media plan, I could tell my daughter was in deep thought. Now that I had finally explained my reasoning for not giving her a cellphone yet, she ended up agreeing with me. She said she wasn’t ready to own one yet, and then I hugged my daughter tight.
You might read this and think drafting a media agreement with my daughter was pointless, but I want to tell you the exercise helped us a lot. Discussing the terms and the reasons for them helped us turn an argument into a conversation. We understood each other better, and it allowed us to share and review our personal and family goals.