(This is post 1 in a 2 part series about smartphones. The next post will be about what I told my kids about owning a smartphone. You can’t call it a “before” and “after” if you like)

Like all other parenting decisions, the choice to give a child a smartphone or tablet is a personal one. My son, God bless him, is the only GR7 in his class who doesn’t have a phone or tablet, a fact that he reminds me of with irrational frequency. But that is about to change. Soon he turns 13 and the winds of change, which smell suspiciously and strongly of Axe deodorant, are blowing through our house. 

In this blog, I will be sharing with you why we decided to wait this long to give my son a phone. In the follow-on blog I will share with you what we shared with him things he needs to know regarding actually owning one. Our agreement with our eldest is that there are certain rules and responsibilities, attitudes and characteristics that need to be present by the age of 13 if he wants to have a phone by then. If you want this list, it’s available as a free printable to subscribers, so be sure to subscribe to the blog

DISCLAIMER: This is not my judgment on parents whose kids have phones. Far from it! Spend one day with me or interview my kids and you will realise in about 5 minutes flat I am in no position to judge any other parent. Seriously, you do you! The reason I wrote this blog is because 1) People ask me all the time how we’ve handled the smartphone issue and 2) This blog arose from a series of actual convo’s I had with my actual stroppy and frustrated 12 yo in the car on the way to school. Use it don’t use it, like with everything else on this site! 

This is what I told my kid about getting a smartphone:

You are still learning about relationships:

One of the most important skills to have is the ability to build relationships. As I mention in my book in the chapter on popularity, there is a distinct correlation between our general well being and our ability to build and maintain strong, lasting friendships with peers. I don’t believe having a cellphone helps kids with this. In fact, I think in kids, who are still learning about being around others, it actually hinders their ability to be socially comfortable. 

Technology at its best connects us, but at its worst, it disconnects us and desensitizes us to the world. 

Picking up social ques, looking people in the eye, discerning tone and timing, empathy, genuine connection, you can’t develop one of these skills if your only interaction with others is via a screen. Connection via a screen cannot, should not, ever be considered the same as actual connection with actual people and learning from those interactions. 

You are still learning about responsibility:

Here are the facts: learning to be responsible is exactly that, something you learn. And you don’t start that learning by being responsible for a R3000 piece of equipment that gives you access to the internet. You just don’t. As your mom I will not be doing you a favor by starting to teach you responsibility at that level. You learn responsibility by starting smaller. Much, much smaller. You learn it by being responsible for the R60 swimming cap you keep losing. You learn it by taking seriously the small tasks entrusted to you. Here is what Jesus said:

“The one who manages the little he has been given with faithfulness and integrity will be promoted and trusted with greater responsibilities. But those who cheat with the little they have been given will not be considered trustworthy to receive more.” 

Luke 16 v 10 TPT

So if you can’t keep track of the R60 swimming cap or remember that it’s your “responsibility” to take the recycling out on a Thursday without your mom telling you, well, then you are not yet responsible enough to own a smartphone. It really is just as simple as that. 

You have to earn your privileges:

Privileges are earned. This is true for every single person in the world, in every job and sphere we operate in. And the fact is, a smartphone is exactly that. A privilege. Not a human right. Not a necessity for someone who doesn’t have a job or any of the complicated logistics of adulting to manage. And by delaying giving you something you desperately want, we as your parents are actually making you a better person. Some of the most awful people you will ever encounter are the entitled kind. You are not entitled to a phone. There is a tangible list of achievable things (remember to subscribe for this list as a free printable!) by which you can earn this privilege, meaning you are 100% empowered to do so. 

You should still reap the benefits of being a kid:

Experts are now able to prove the negative impact smartphones and access to the internet has on the mental health of children. In the ever rising child suicide numbers and cyber bully headline we as parents are seeing the fruit of the access we have granted to humans who are simply not ready or equipped to cope with it. 

Having a phone also makes you physically vulnerable. Just recently I read about a school in Cape Town where there was a robbery during school hours. Yes, a robbery. At a school. Why? Smartphones is why. In every decision we as your parents have to count the cost and if I have to choose between you being unhappy about not having a smartphone or you having compromised mental health, or being traumatized by a cyberbully or a robber well, I’m sorry, but the choice is obvious.

I am not made of steel. I want a happy child who feels like he fits in just as much as the next parent. Saying no to my kids is hard, even when I have all the wisdom and reasons why. But NO is not bad for you. Most wise no’s are for the sake of a bigger yes. I want my son to know there are values that far supersede the value of fitting in or getting what you want when you want it. I want my son to learn and know the secret to really living, and living well. I want him to know what it means to be free. But those lessons are not normally present in an environment where you 1) always get what you want and 2) get things you are not ready for 3) you do exactly the same thing everyone else is doing. And I trust that my son will eventually see the wisdom in this, if not today then hopefully some day.  My job, my calling as mom, is not to give my son everything he wants and guard his happiness. My job is to equip him with what he needs to live a good life. To love and lead him into the Kingdom so that life might have a purpose, and to guide and guard his body, mind and spirit as I carry out that calling.  Go with God mommas, I know this is a tough one!