I know what you are thinking after reading the title. Maybe you have a teen or pre-teen and you are trying to decide whether or not to get them a phone. You may be thinking, “Yes, I know they might end up spending too much time on their phone, but I will feel safer knowing that they have one. I’ll be able to check on them whenever I want to see exactly where they are. I’ll be able to call them any time I need them and they’ll be able to get a hold of me any time that they need.” When the subject comes up with your kid all you hear is, “Mom/Dad all of my friends have one. How am I supposed to keep up with what is going on if I don’t have one? This is just how things are living in our world today, you know? If I don’t have one then I am going to be made fun of. I will be the only one of my friends without one.” I know it can be hard to say “no.” You can rationalize the good in your mind. But, I want you to strongly consider saying, “no” to that Smartphone request. If you say, “no,” know that you will be in the minority. However, I truly believe that you and your family will be far happier and safer if your teen doesn’t have one in their hands. I believe that it is most wise to say no to the Smartphone until after High School. Let me provide a few reasons as to why.
The Addiction Factor:
Let’s face it, Smartphones are addictive. Most anyone can see it, and recent statistics confirm it. We also know that many teenagers already deal with compulsive behavior. Putting addiction and compulsion together is a receipt for disaster. This is not just a teenager issue. The reality is many adults, who didn’t grow up in the digital age, have a near addiction to their Smartphones. If adults have a hard time finding the balance with Smartphones, teens who are still trying to learn these skills have little chance of overcoming it on their own. According to a recent article by Harvard University, when a person gets a social media notification, their brain sends a shot of dopamine to the brain causing a euphoric experience. Dopamine is most often associated with food, exercise, romance, sex, gambling, drugs, and now that little black pixelized box in the hands of hundreds of millions of people. When many of our teens struggle enough with compulsive behavior does it seem wise to give them something that is going to tempt them toward that end even more? Paul, in I Corinthians 9:27 writes, “but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” In this day and age it takes discipline to control our phone habits; discipline that many teens lack the desire or self-government to do. If we want to help our teens hone in on discipline and self-control then putting a smart phone in their hand will likely contradict this.
The Pornography Factor:
When many of us were teens pornography was hard to come by (praise the Lord). But that is not true in today’s world. 27% of all unfiltered internet is pornographic. In 2020 a study was done that showed some 51% of all 11-12 year-olds polled were aware of and had access to pornography, 13-14 year-olds . . . . 66%, 15-16 year-olds . . . an astonishing 79% . It is available on almost every social media platform. The accessibility to pornography is near unfettered. If a teen has a Smartphone, internet access, and a desire to see pornography, they can find it in a matter of seconds. Pornography can rob your soul (Matthew 16:26). It can cost personal relationships (Ephesians 5:3). It can cost a person sexual joy with their future spouse (Song of Solomon 8:4). Paul says that we are to “Flee sexual immorality”(I Corinthians 6:18). A loving father or mother would not give their child a pornographic magazine nor a XXX movie for their birthday. However, you are inviting these things into your home and the mind of a pubescent curious teen by giving them a Smartphone. You may not be able to keep your son or daughter from having lustful thoughts, but you can keep the digital temptation and call of the Siren out of their hands.
The Time-Sink Factor:
According to Common Sense Media, 53% of American children own a Smartphone by age 11. The average teen in the U.S. spends some 7 hours a day on their Smartphone (outside of school and any extracurricular activities.) This is a lot of screen time. Just like adults, teens can easily get sucked into the blue faced vortex of their Smartphone as they mindlessly scroll through social media. The Apostle Paul commanded the church in Ephesus to redeem the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). There is a place for leisure. There is a place for playing games, reading articles, and catching up with friends. But, we all know the allure of that digital mistress. Teens have so many wonderful things that they could be doing with their free time that could be productive. Time is a gift from God for teens. They will never again have as much free time as they do now. This is precious time that they will never get back. Smartphones can be the source of a massive waste of time if not checked. Time is a gift. Help your teens to be good stewards of it.
The Safety Factor:
Many parents may think that there is more danger outside of the home than in the digital world. But recent statics have shown that violent crime has significantly dropped over the past 30 years. One of the most dangerous places for teens to be today is actually online. Cyberbullying is no joke. It is reported that between 50-60 percent of teens who are on social media have been cyberbullied. Since the invention of the Smartphone 10 years ago teen suicide rates have quadrupled. Diagnosed anxiety has more than doubled since the invention of the Smartphone. These are some alarming statistics, both of which are closely tied to Smartphone usage.
Yet, bullying is not the only danger. There is story after story about predatory behavior as well. It can come in the form of sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse through apps and other online sources. This can happen without the other person ever being in the same room. Sadly, some of these encounters have eventually led to real physical abuse.
Now this isn’t limited to Smartphone users. This can happen through any device that hooks up to the internet. But know this: if your child’s Smartphone connects to the internet the safety factor increases exponentially. Jesus told his disciples, “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). As parents we must heed these words from Christ when considering the safety of our teen or pre-teen. You must ask yourself, “Am I being as wise as a serpent when considering this phone?” Because, I promise, smartphones are not nearly as innocent as they may seem.
What I have laid out here, I believe, it to be based on biblical wisdom. I am aware that a Smartphone itself is not sinful. However, we must ask if it is wise and best for our teenage sons and daughters? I know there are circumstances where a Smartphone may be necessary for your teen (to monitor their health for example). I know in this day and age it will likely put your teen on the outside looking in with their friends. But remember this: you are their parent. You get to decide what is best for them, not their peers. Not society. Don’t give in to your son or daughter’s tears or youthful persuasion. You are going to stand before God to answer for how you shepherded your home. Fathers, you particularly will be judged on how you protected your family as the head of your home in this matter. So, I ask you to sincerely consider what has been written here before busting out your credit card for another monthly payment on that $800 iPhone for your 13-year-old. However, if you have prayed through it and you still believe that your teen “needs” a phone, let me provide a couple of safe(ish) options for you.
It looks like a Smartphone, but without the worries. It has no social media, no web browsing, no games, and no app store. It cannot hook up to the internet at all. So, no worries. What you do get with it is 14 essential apps: music, phone, messaging, contacts, camera, video, gallery, calendar, calculator, clock, voice recorder, FM radio, file manager and settings. It also has a built in GPS. If you are looking for a smart phone that isn’t so smart, this one might fit the bill (It is only $100).
The dumb phone:
That’s right, a simple flip phone that we all had back in the day that takes horrible pictures and can only text and call. If your teen needs a phone, the old trusty flip phone may be the best choice.
No phone at all:
I think it is wise to have an extra cell phone or two for your family. When your children are old enough to drive it seems wise that they would have a phone with them in case it is needed while driving. However, I know many families who just have a “family cell phone” that they grab while going out the door. It isn’t any one person’s phone. It is just for the purpose of having access to the phone when it is needed. It is not constantly on a person but is picked up when walking out the door.
My final admonition as I close would be to take 90 minutes to sit down with your spouse and watch the film Social Media Dangers Documentary — Childhood 2.0. I am convinced that it will open your eyes to a world that you may have never knew existed, but it is one that your teen or soon-to-be teen will live in (for better or worse) when it comes to Smartphones and social media. May the Lord guide you in this area with his rich biblical wisdom. And for the sake of your children and future grandchildren remember this little proverb: when it comes to a phone for your teen, the dumber it is, the wiser and better off your kid will be.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell