I am far from being an expert on how to raise teenagers. After all, I’ve only been at it for a couple of months; my older daughter turned 13. A recent news item, though, prompted me to publicly and proudly announce that my teen doesn’t have a cell phone, and to boldly impose my unsolicited advice on everyone else by declaring: and neither should yours.
Ultimately, there’s no objective right and wrong to parenting, and differing approaches in no way reflect how devoted and loving a parent is. It’s a matter of opinion, and I am hereby sharing mine.
A middle school in North Carolina recently removed the mirrors from its bathrooms because too many kids were going in for long bathroom breaks, during which they were making TikTok videos. Never mind that I think TikTok is a Chinese surveillance system and that as a result of the cavalcade of buffoons we have running our government, we probably won’t figure that out for at least another decade. Let’s just pretend that the kids were taking selfies or making phonecalls instead. The ‘solution’ of removing the mirrors is frightening because those who made it woefully lack common sense, and yet they’re apparently in positions of authority, entrusted to educate children. I’m surprised they didn’t think of removing the bathrooms altogether.
The obvious thing to do was to take away the students’ phones. Kids shouldn’t have phones anyway.
Admittedly, our situation is a little different than most. Our teen receives a hybrid education, online at home and also face-to-face at a parent-run co-op for distance and home school learners. Since it’s parent-run, my wife and I are there sometimes, and when we’re not, a bunch of other parents are, who are friends of ours and can easily contact us if ever there’s a need.
I was anticipating my daughter’s complaints about not having a cellphone. Thankfully, there weren’t too many. “But all my friends have phones” is the common bone of contention. My response: “they’re not lucky enough – like you are – to have parents who know better.” That’s our standard answer for many complaints, such as: “why don’t we ever eat at McDonald’s?” (though she appreciated the toxicity of fast food at an early age and would never ask nowadays).
Nonetheless, my daughter still gets to be a teenager and do all the fun, sneaky things kids do: such as secretly pass notes during in-person class, and privately message with her friends during online lessons. She has time to socialize with her friends – to talk about everything from which band they like to which boy they think is cute – without parents listening in.
What about parents who aren’t in that situation, whose children go to traditional brick-and-mortar schools every day? In this day and age of child trafficking, when parents won’t even let their kids walk to the corner store by themselves, isn’t it better for everyone’s piece of mind if they have a phone? Ok, sure, but not a smartphone. If the rationale behind school-age children having phones is so that parents can call or text them, and vice versa, whenever they need to, fine. But they don’t need an app for that. Or a camera. Or social media.
In fact, now there are programmable phones made especially for kids and teens, which can only make or receive calls and texts to and from specific numbers, and 911.
Smartphones are an awful enough habit for adults to indulge in; there’s no need to get kids hooked on them at such a young age. A couple of years back I read the book ‘Digital Minimalism’, by Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport. Though Newport is a millennial and teaches about computers, he’s never had a social media account. The book didn’t cause me to get off the grid completely (that would’ve meant, among other things, mailing a physical copy of my column every week to TNH for publication!), but I’ve significantly cut down. I have a home office that I shut down on most nights right before dinner, and there’s no more web surfing after that for the rest of the night. As for using my phone, sure I’ll message a friend or family member, check the score of a game, or even Google the cast and crew of a film I saw a few years ago to remember the name of a particular actor. But I’m not glued to my phone, at least not nearly as much as I used to be.
I wrote a column in 2013 about being in a remote Greek village where Internet was spotty, and spending evenings with my wife, our then-toddler daughter, and our friend and her tween daughter: talking, laughing, and teaching the tween how to play backgammon – not online, but on a set made of wood. There’s a lot to be said for cutting down on a digital diet. Just as giving up cigarettes is easier if you haven’t been hooked on them since you were a kid, so is giving up TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.
Less phone time means less opportunity to be scammed on the Internet, to walk and text at the same time and consequently walk into a wall (or worse), a habit which can lead into an even more dangerous one – driving and texting. It can mean more time to channel one’s creativity into more meaningful outlets, such as learning to play a musical instrument, roller skate, ride a horse, etc.
The first schools date back to about 2700 BC. Cell phones became popular in the 1990s. Students were doing just fine all those centuries without them.