She first asked in third grade.
Two kids in her class had their own phones.
“No way,” I told her. “Who would you call? What would you do? Nothing that you can’t do from my phone. Nothing that you can’t do here in the living room on your tablet for all to view.”
Now that she is in middle school, she tells me that everyone has a phone. (This is where you can imagine me rolling my eyes at her use of “everyone.”)
“Mom, the girls in my class have an ongoing group Snap Chat conversation. I am left out because I don’t have a phone. They have a lot of inside jokes because they are in that group.”
I remember my group of friends in middle school. I remember the beginnings of hormones and my first kiss. I remember mean girls and the first small tastes of freedom. And I also remember it was difficult enough to navigate school and my burgeoning social life without the added stress of a cell phone.
Besides the fact that she is always either with me, my husband, or a responsible adult who can help her if she should need anything, here are some more reasons that I won’t let her have a phone:
Pictures Last Forever
I was a good kid, but even as a good kid, I did my fair share of sneaking around as a teenager. (Sorry, Mom!) Screenshots of incriminating texts and pictures that kids take on their own initiative or because they were pressured by someone else, do not disappear once they enter cyberspace. A picture meant for one person can be spread over large communities in a matter of minutes. I have talked to my (phoneless) daughter already about taking pictures of her body and the dangers associated with it. She assures me that she would never do that. But—even as adults—don’t we all do things we say we’d never do? Once a picture is out in the world, it can never be retracted.
It is no secret that predators lure girls (and boys) with fake profiles on a myriad of social media apps. I am not even going to pretend to be as smart and up-to-date as they are at the ins and outs of hiding private messages on a phone.
I know all the big ones. I know the rules about checking children’s phones and friending/following each other on social media. But technology changes faster than I can keep up, and predators are smarter than I am at getting in touch with my kids in ways I might not detect.
Again, we should talk to our kids about this. But also, I don’t think middle schoolers make the best decisions all of the time.
There is study after study demonstrating that children and teens who join social media platforms too early have higher instances of low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
They also lose precious time they could be doing other things in a digital black hole—it is addictive. Even as an adult, I have to work hard to limit myself and my time on social media. But the scariest thing to me is the rise in teen suicides as a possible result of cyber bullying. Over text, over social media, and through screens that dehumanize their victims, bullies can attack almost without consequence. According to the CDC website, the rates for suicide among teen girls is at a 40-year high.
Phones are not allowed at school (technically—but they are there).
Phones are distracting.
They take up valuable brain resources (have you seen the study that just having your cell phone in the same room takes up valuable cognitive space and limits a person’s ability to form mental tasks?).
And I just do not think middle schoolers have the necessary maturity to handle what is essentially a tiny computer at their fingertips.
So sorry, sweet girl. You can send WhatsApp messages to your friends on my cell phone for now—if you must. But also, you can read, you can play outside, you can call your friends on the family iPad and make an actual voice call like we did in the “olden days” (as she refers to my childhood).
You can build your sense of self-worth and identity based on activities that take place in the real world—in sports, in clubs, in volunteer opportunities—and not in the fictional world that exists on the internet of likes, shares, snaps, and retweets.