Dear Ann Cannon • I’ve got a 10-year-old son who idolizes his older cousins and they are constantly glued to their smartphones. So far my wife and I have been able to delay this rite of passage, but I wonder if I’m holding him back from the social benefits that come from having this technology. I confess I don’t know what I’d do without my smartphone. At what age do you think a child is ready for the responsibility of a smartphone?
— Reluctant Dad
Dear Reluctant Dad • When my oldest son was in high school, he asked if he could have a pager. And I said, “Dude. No. Only doctors and drug dealers have pagers.” Isn’t that a quaint little story?
This is my way of saying that a) times sure have changed, b) I’m glad I’m not raising teenagers today, and c) I’m not the best person to ask this question — which is why I threw your question out there on social media. I KNOW! IRONY! Because, of course, one of the big problems with smartphones is the access they give kids to the corrosive effects of social media. (For a sobering look at the problem, go to #SAVETHEKIDS website and listen to Colin Kartchner’s local TED Talk.)
Anyway. You ask at what age a child is ready for a smartphone. Virtually everyone who responded (and I had a LOT of response) said 10 years old is too young. Waaaaaay too young. Some advocated for waiting until your teenager is in high school, while others were a fan of the “Wait Until 8th” movement. Some suggested using flip phones for younger teenagers. And oh yeah. Telling your kid that he or she has to wait until getting a smartphone is gonna be really, really hard. As one parent said, “At 13-and-a-half, [our daughter] was literally the last of her friends to get a phone.”
I especially appreciated this thoughtful response from the same parent who is also a middle school teacher: “As a teacher, I’ve seen way too many problems to allow a 10-year-old to have their own phone. I have students who have received sexually explicit videos via social media, have been solicited by dangerous adults, have experienced bullying and participated in bullying.”
Meanwhile, everyone agreed that no matter the age of the teenager, monitoring is a must. Among other suggestions, I liked the idea of requiring everyone in the family to leave phones on a tray in the kitchen each night. Your kids may (and probably will) find ways around your efforts to monitor smartphone use. But still.
And, finally, let’s be honest with ourselves, shall we? Teenagers aren’t the only ones with a smartphone problem. Um. I think we parents and grandparents should take a look in the mirror, too. All of us would probably feel better — and certainly be more present — if we just put our phones away.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who responded. I so appreciated your help!
Dear Ann Cannon • Like most young adults, my 20-something daughter has her cellphone with her All. The. Time. I’m fine with the interference most of the time, but I’m having a hard time with it during meal times, especially when we’re at a restaurant and I’m paying. Is it too much to ask for her undivided attention?
— High Maintenance Mom
Dear High Maintenance Mom • Here’s the short answer to your questions: No, it’s not too much for you to ask for her undivided attention. And, sister, IMHO you’re not the high maintenance one in this scenario. Seriously. Tell your daughter (see above) To. Put. Her. Phone. Away.
(It’s hard. But you can do it! Good luck!)