Every parent of a teen or pre-teen girl has endured the very real struggle over a smartphone. On one hand, they are a revolutionary technological advancement for society. On the other hand, they are an open door to every bad thing that exists in our world today.
Intellectually, we know the phone itself is not good or evil, but they are scary just the same. They get even scarier when you read stories about Silicon Valley Execs raising their kids tech free. These things were literally designed to be addictive.
As a parent, what am I supposed to do? I will not always be there to check her messages, DMs, or the pictures she shares and receives. Phones are part of our lives. The real skills my daughters need is to learn how to manage their own phone usage. How do I give them enough freedom to practice making good decisions on their own, while at the same time protecting them from all the dangers they could be exposed to by being connected 24/7?
Total lockdown is not the solution, but neither is absolute freedom.
An unrestricted phone creates an environment where kids are constantly connected. When I was growing up, no matter how bad the drama got at school, I was always able to escape it at the end of the day. If I was really lucky, the drama happened on Friday and I had all weekend to get over it.
With a phone, kids are always connected. Always being connected prevents them from getting away from the drama. Whatever starts at school is continued into the night on text messages or social media. Not only is it continued, many times it grows as more people join in.
This is especially harmful for girls. Many studies like this one are connecting increased anxiety, self-harm, suicide attempts, and suicide to smartphone and social media usage.
Like everything else in life, a good balance between total lockdown and absolute freedom is probably the best. Jonathan Haidt and Lisa Damour give some great advice in their respective books about teen phone usage.
Complete phone freedom should not be granted until at least high school. Children’s brains are not developed enough to manage all of the challenges that come with having an unrestricted phone before high school.
So, as I stated earlier, smartphones are not good or evil, but they are definitely scary. A good balance of freedom and restrictions up to and through high school will help our daughters learn to successfully manage their usage on their own.