10 Reasons Parents Cave And Give Kids Smartphones
I recently got a phone call from a mom of three teens who attended one of my workshops. We spoke for an hour. In desperation, she admitted that the biggest parenting mistake she’d made to date was giving her kids smartphones in 8th grade. She said her kids were mean to their friends and depressed over group texts and social media. After reviewing their content, she discovered they were being exposed to pornography regularly. She shared how things had gone from bad to worse at her home and how she and her husband had spent the last year trying to undo that one big mistake. “I don’t know why I caved in and gave my kids a smartphone in the first place,” she stated.
Unfortunately, this regret is something I routinely hear from parents. Parents of older kids will report that this decision is the one thing they would go back and change if they could go back in time. The truth is, 8th grade is not a smart age for a smartphone, and neither is the rest of adolescence. Simply put, smartphones and social media are not designed with the best interest of teenagers in mind.
Why do parents cave in and buy smartphones for kids when smartphones cause so many problems for this age group? Here are a few of the many reasons why:
Ten reasons why we cave and give our kids smartphones:
1. Current culture says to give teens smartphones, and we want to belong to the culture.
“Everyone else is giving them. I didn’t realize I could say no.”
The herd or tribe mentality is human nature because it is a survival skill. It goes like this: If we don’t go with the larger group, we might end up searching for food by ourselves in the middle of a field! Being part of the herd was and still is a survival skill. But we don’t have to go along with the herd if it is heading the wrong way. You have permission to say ‘no’ to cultural trends that are not good for your kids. Don’t be the parent who caves in and gives their kid a smartphone.
2. Anchoring biases, the first things we hear, drive our decisions.
“Thirteen is the age of digital maturity because that is the age listed on social media platforms.”
The first thing we hear is tough to change, even if it is a myth. It is dangerous when we get the wrong anchor or first impression. Our brain doesn’t want to expend the energy to confront our bias and change it. When families hear the Screenstrong message early, they have a much easier time making healthier choices for their kids around tech.
The myth about the age of 13 is an excellent example of how this anchoring bias works. Most parents believe that 13 years old is the recommended age for a smartphone because we see that age listed as the minimum age requirement for social media accounts. We don’t think twice because it is hard to think twice.
Parents are led to believe this age requirement is like movie and video game ratings, meaning that 13-year-olds should be mature enough to handle the content that social media companies allow. But this is not true. The fact is, the age of 13 was set by the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) before social media was even invented—four years before Facebook and seven years before the iPhone. The law determined that no online site could collect data and personal information from children under 13 without a parent’s consent. This law had nothing to do with maturity— it was only about collecting personal data.
This is a perfect example of how dangerous an anchoring bias can be and how we need to work hard to learn the truth behind the influences on our parenting decisions. Thirteen is not the age of online maturity; if every parent could see past this anchoring bias, the digital teen world would be very different.
3. Parent peer pressure is as intense as teen peer pressure.
“When are you getting a phone for your kids?” our friends ask.
The question is never, “Are you getting a phone?” It is, “When are you getting one?” Peer pressure from other parents is a strong driving force behind many of our parenting decisions. From what ball team to get on to what school to enroll our kids in, none of us want to miss out. Our desire to fit in fuels our social media use. Just like our kids, we crave being like everyone else. It takes a leader to break out of harmful group habits.
4. We forget to consider other options.
“I never thought about not giving them one, and I never looked into other options.”
Some things become so commonplace that we stop thinking about the reasons behind them. This reminds me of a story about a family tradition. When a daughter asked her mom why they cut the tip off the roast before they cooked it, the mom explained that it was what Grandma always did. When they asked Grandma why she did it, she explained it was because her pot was too small years ago! The family continued the habit even though they had bigger pans. This is an example of how we continue following norms without questioning why.
When we enter the smartphone decision, we first think about setting up parental controls and setting limits. Rarely do we wonder if we should even give a smartphone in the first place. It takes energy to go against the way things have always been done. But we shouldn’t keep doing something just because that’s the way everyone does it. Don’t cave and get your kid a smartphone.
5. We love our kids, and our empathy is powerful when they start begging.
“My teen was begging for a phone, and I lost all my senses.”
Our kids tug at our heartstrings. We have great empathy for our children; honestly, we do not want to believe that they are like all the other kids who make mistakes online. It is good that we care deeply, but it can also hurt them. Our empathy for our kids is another survival mechanism, and it is powerful. Strong feelings often override common sense and logic. We want our kids to fit in and be happy, and we want to believe the best. That is why we give in. But what happens when our decisions make our kids sadder and more depressed? Because we love our kids, we must see past our empathy and make better choices.
6. We are exhausted.
“I tried to hold off, but I just can’t do it anymore.”
Our children have worn us down. The begging is relentless. When we are exhausted, we give in quickly and make bad decisions. We shouldn’t make life-changing decisions when we are exhausted. Instead, take a step back and wait. Don’t give that smartphone just because you are tired of the begging.
7. We think our values are genetic.
“My kids know better because they are my kids.”
It is easy to believe that our values are somehow inborn in our children. The truth is, our kids will do stupid things just like we did before our brains were fully developed. Do you remember how you felt in middle school and high school? The fear of rejection from your peers? The worry about fitting in? Our kids’ prefrontal cortex (the judgment center of the brain) is not fully developed. They are programmed to take risks at this age. Even if they have been warned about the consequences, their brains aren’t ready to thoroughly think through certain issues and see far into the future. They are concerned with the present and fitting in with their peers or getting attention from others.
Our morals and values are not genetic. We need to teach them repeatedly and our teens will learn them best in the real world.
8. We are in denial.
“My kids would never ___.”
We believe nothing bad will happen to our kids. This is a strong blindspot. Our positive attitude is a good thing; it keeps us going. However, living in denial is not helpful when raising children. Being negative and fearful is not good either. We need to be realistic when it comes to exposing our kids to harmful habits. Children are not immune to online dangers. They are especially susceptible because of their age and immaturity. We cannot inoculate them against the threats, and we cannot keep our heads in the sand or think big tech is concerned about their well-being. We love our kids more than big tech, and we are the only ones that can realistically guard and grow our kids.
9. We tend to live vicariously through our kids.
“If my child is not the most popular kid in school, I feel bad.”
We secretly want our kids to fit in and be popular regardless of the costs because deep down, we remember what childhood pain feels like, and we want to smooth the way and help them avoid this pain. For our kids’ mental health, we must resist the urge to re-live our adolescent years through our kids. You were fine without social media, and they will be too.
10. We are afraid to take a stand.
“I have to pick my battles. I can’t fight this one; it’s too big.”
We may need to pick our battles, but we can’t lump all parental decisions into equal categories. This is a big mistake. We can give our teens more autonomy over how they wear their hair, curfew times, when to shave and when to wear make-up, but some things are non-negotiable. We don’t allow our teens to visit strip clubs, use illegal drugs, and drink and drive. The inappropriate use of screens can cause lifetime scars and hurt others. Some activities are negotiable, and some are not. Don’t cave on this issue.
Have courage; there is a much better option.
Be realistic about the mental health needs of your teens before you hand over a smartphone. These mini-computers are powerful and tweens and teens are not wise enough to use them without getting hurt and hurting others. It is hard to go against social norms, change our anchoring biases, and disappoint our children, but parents must stand firm in the face of pressure to cave in and buy their kids smartphones. Giving in to the cultural pull will never make them more mature.
ScreenStrong supports the healthy choice to bypass not all screen use, but toxic screen use throughout adolescence. We empower parents to never cave into pressure and to set a high bar for their families. What can you do next? Sign up for our 7-Day Challenge. Take a week to begin to detox and reset screen use in your home. Join our community through our private FB Group: ScreenStrong Families. Or join the Connect group on our site, where you can get more specific help from our doctors. Listen to our weekly Podcast and get our online course. Most importantly, be bold and stand out from the crowd, stand up for your kids, and do not cave when it comes to the smartphone decision. Join ScreenStrong today and get your kids back!
If you found this post helpful, you may also wish to read this one: Why Smartphones Are Not Smart for Teens – Especially 8th Graders