PARENTAL WISDOM:

Tweens and Tech: Why my 10 year old won’t get a phone

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by Abbie Schiller, Founder and CEO, TMC

One of the worst parenting mistakes I ever made was to give my 8-year-old daughter my old iPhone “just because.” She had been asking – begging – for months.  “EVERY other kid has one/I need to be able to contact you in case of emergency/I’ll only use it for travel,” she pleaded. I caved because, really, I was curious to see what would happen (and what do you do with old iPhones anyway?).  We cut off phone service so she could only text and I gave her a set of very reasonable rules. She was sincere in her promise to adhere. But my rules turned out to be too thin and things spun out of control.

Everything started out fine. It usually does. Within a month, she was texting friends (and possibly friends of friends) around the world at all hours.  She was playing video games like a full-blown tech addict, rarely looking up to answer a question – if she answered at all. Other moms complained to me, “my kid now is bugging me for a phone because your kid has one.” AND…she secretly set up an Instagram account and was posting pictures of her little brother and of herself. Not inappropriate pictures, but still! I was overwhelmed – the pace of social decline was rapid. Where was the girl I knew? I had to shut it all down immediately. The accounts were closed.  The phone was tucked away somewhere we all forgot about.  Sanity was restored to this child who was now free to play soccer and dance and hang out screen free.  Phew!

“When will I get it back,” she would ask regularly. It was the monster we all wished we could ignore.  I would answer honestly, “When I am ready.”  She’s now ten, and will soon start middle school.  Every kid will surely have a phone (for real this time). She’s ready for the phone.  I’m still not.

It took a while for me to realize why. This isn’t just about her having a phone.  It is about something else. Giving my daughter a phone is about me losing the parental control that I am so used to and fond of.  It is about letting her go untethered.  She’s growing up and I have to trust her to make the right choices.  A phone connects her to people I don’t know, possibly creepy and dangerous. It creates addicting distractions, becomes an incessant time suck, and it connects her to access I can’t control (yes, I realize I used the word “control” twice). Can’t I keep her young a little longer?

Tweens and Tech

As the parent of a girl, phones – for all the selfie, self-centered, superficial, fake, competitive, fast paced world they introduce – are especially concerning. Post a pic and hope your friends respond about your looks! Draw confidence from that feeling of being digitally liked!  Get a negative comment and let it stew in your brain, clouding your thoughts, your studies, your social world. The fake status and altered self-esteem phones grant you troubles me. How many followers you have. How many texts you get (especially during a conversation with someone else). Digital drama of a tween can be intense!  Gossip is so public.  Shaming is so normalized. She’s been so sheltered from that, I really loathe to open those gates.

A phone also separates her from me. This is the beginning of when friends become more important than parents and I just hate that.  It also starts a downward spiral on how she authentically connects to others. Not to mention all those potentially dangerous cancer-causing, sleep-disrupting EMTs

At her soccer tournaments, between games, girls sit in two groups: girls with phones and girls without.  The girls without chat to each other.  They kick the ball around.  They walk around together.  The girls with phones stare down silently or they blast music they think others want to hear. What are the implications on how kids learn to connect and socialize?  How can this all be handled at such a young age?  Won’t this just become a constant headache to manage?

I asked one of the phone-addicted girls on the soccer team how long she has ever gone without her phone. She asked if sleeping counts.  Think about that.

I don’t care if I sound old by saying, “It’s awful!”

So here is where I’ve landed: I realize that as much as I’d like to, I can’t avoid this modern day reality forever.  The future is here, but I can stall her from it a little longer… “You know how all your friends are getting phones for their 5th grade graduation?” I asked my kid one day.  “Well you won’t be one of them. I want you to buy your own phone.  You have to pay for half the phone and the monthly fees. Then you will truly appreciate it. A phone is not a gift, it is an earned privilege.” She was pissed but immediately started figuring out how to earn $300 by this summer.

I realize that I can’t stop this technology train.  It’s coming for her. I will have to learn how best to manage it. A phone won’t be a gift – that just sends the wrong message.  It will be a carefully earned privilege that will come with plenty of rules.  One of those rules will be that family time is tech-free time.

As for me, I suppose I’ll need to come to terms with the connected world my daughter is growing up in.  I’ll have to trust and untether and hope that all the things she has learned about kindness and fairness (and time management and study habits) she holds on to. And I’ll have to remember that she’s a good kid and can use her tech to do good things as well.  One of which could be keeping in touch with me.

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Posted in: Parental Wisdom, The Mother Co. Mamas

Comments (11)

  1. Zoe Brown

    I’m 10 and I totally agree with you , phones are. Awesome and I keep begging my mom she said she has to talk to my dad!!!!!!!

  2. tabatha

    My eleven year old got a galaxy s5 from my exs mother..(grandma) she is always on it…she wont let me look in cause its thumb print pin..grandma or her father wont put parentl control on it..her clothes mouth no homework were big signs since christmas…i looked online and found her on multiple sites changing dob..date sites…my ex doesnt believe me ,..niw shes threating me making severe accusations in wich now she wants her father to have full custody..her father believes her. She wants no part of ne and they have tons of money..my heart is ripped out and i think i lost her..she was always caring loving..A student honor roll..now she lies copies doesnt smile threatens and talks back…do i walk or fight his family

    • Abbie

      Tabitha – seems like you have two problems – one with your kid and the other with your ex. You can really only be in control of one of those and she is surely worth fighting for! Talk to your kid and set digital boundaries. CommonSenseMedia.org has some good ones. Explain why you’re enforcing the rules for when she’s at your house. Listen to her about what she thinks is reasonable. You’re the parent and you’re in control but listening to her will help with her cooperation. Make sure to read our articles on discipline and cooperation so you approach it from a positive place. Otherwise, battles will brew. Explain that your daughter is breaking the law by being on some of the sites she’s on and putting herself in danger – its your job to help keep her safe – and help her understand what she’s doing in order to steer her in the right direction. Good luck!

    • Laurie

      Technology – a blessing and a curse. I’m struggling with the thought of my ten year old daughter getting a cell phone. My husband wants her to have one and we have agreed on talk and text only, but I still am not comfortable with the idea of her having a phone. I mean, our parents didn’t have cell phones and they always knew where we were at or who we were with.
      But with our schedules ( work nights) there will be times when for short periods of time (15 – 30 mins) she will be home alone. My husband will feel better if she has a phone to contact us. I’m still torn. I don’t feel she’s ready for the responsibility of a cell phone, but then I think what if she needs us and has no way to contact us? I’ve listed the pros and cons, I’ve done research and still, I’m just torn.

  3. Jane

    imwith you on this one, unfortunately our family position has meant I had to give my daughter a phone at six (a cheap low tech one) for her safety. She has since within weeks been given a smartphone by her father, because he refuses to ring her on the one I bought. She is constantly on it playing games and I can’t hide it because he will become abusive about me preventing him speaking to her (there are three alternative phones including a landline he can use). I’m already mourning the loss of my daughter who craved my company and wanted to play board games with me 🙁

  4. Carrie

    Great article! I am a mom of three boys and a teacher (5th grade). I cannot tell other moms enough how dangerous technology can be. Many girls have unsupervised accounts on social media where they claim to be 18 or divorced, while they are ten. This sounds like a dramatized afterschool special, but I have checked out some of my own students in Facebook. Their moms tell us in conferences that they set up the account for their daughters and are supervising them when using it…um, maybe not. Please, think this through!

  5. Sabrina

    After much thought on this I finally caved this school year and purchased a phone for my 12 year old son. It is only a phone! He is able to make calls and send a limited amount of texts- no other features were made available. This has worked very well for us!

    • Nancy

      We live in a free range neighborhood where kids as young as 4 or 5 are outside on their own, usually in the fronts of their houses or backyards, or one of the adjoining neighbors. Or playing in the cul-de-sacs. By the time the kids are 6, they are up and down the block. And by the time they are 7 or 8, they are hanging out around the neighborhood and at parks. My kid is almost 10 and has just started being allowed to be out without us on our immediate block. We have lived in a number of places where kids don’t go out on their own, so we have been a bit more cautious. I was a parent who said I would NEVER allow my elementary school aged child a mobile phone. But now that my child is going up and down the block and into neighbor’s homes (who have kids) sometimes, I want a way to be able to reach my child. We will be getting our child a phone in the next few weeks for our child’s 10th birthday. That all being said, we also highly monitor electronics time overall. Our child has a computer and is only allowed to use it with permission. And permission has to be earned by doing regular chores, homework in a timely fashion, etc. Similar rules will apply to using the phone other than for contacting us. All other use will need to be with permission. At this age, the phone will only be available when going out without parents.

  6. Leslie Dubuque

    Such a great article Abby. I agree my daughter just asked me when she was getting a phone, I said exactly that you said to yours, not until you can pay for it . Apparently I am the meanest mother in the world which I take as a compliment, must mean I am doing something right!

  7. Whitney Pannell

    Your article is so relevant to me. I was just having this conversation with my husband last night. We have a 13 year old daughter who Is addicted to her iPhone and I read her your article.

    • Abbie

      Thanks Whitney! My daughter wants to write a rebuttal. I told her to go for it! Stay tuned…