Hell Freezes Over: My Teen Gets a Smartphone

Last year, I launched a public relations effort to explain why I would not be buying a smartphone for my teenager. I wrote a blog for a leading website, was quoted in news stories and penned a guest column for the local paper. I supplemented the publicity with a community outreach effort. I begged parents to hold off on smartphones so the playing field would be leveled for kids that didn’t have one. My daughter was not thrilled, but my reasoning eventually made sense.

“I can’t argue with any of the points you make in your articles,” she said. ” I really don’t need a smartphone.”

That music to my ears echoed for weeks. Talk about a successful PR campaign.

Surprisingly, when she turned 15, I started getting pressure. Not from my daughter, but from others. Some parents called me a “Tiger Mom.” Even my husband tried to wear me down. One friend said,

“Everyone else her age has a smartphone. That poor kid is going to end up in therapy.”

But the sun continued to rise and set every day without a smartphone. My daughter was doing just fine. When she did complain, a rare occurrence, I reminded her about how they are are a want, not a need. The more I saw teens and increasingly younger kids glued to their devices, the more indignant I got. The thought of my intelligent, thoughtful daughter playing “Candy Crush,” or group chatting at all hours, made me physically ill. She’s on the shy side, so I wanted to see her socializing with peers instead of being glued to her phone.

Not only that, many adults I knew were cursing the day they caved in because their kids have turned into teenage mutant smartphone zombies, never to be seen again.

I often read Facebook and Twitter comments that said things like, “I got my kid a smartphone. It was nice knowing him.”

I would sign her up for this kind of madness over my dead body. Then the unthinkable happened.

It was a Friday and my daughter had just come home from school. Exams were coming up and she was hot and cranky. After yelling, “I hate this phone!” she plugged her four-year-old device into the charger and disappeared into her room. A few minutes later, I sat down on her bed. “We will get you a smartphone,” I said matter-of-factly.

(What did I just say??? I surprised even myself.)

My daughter looked dazed and confused.  I continued, “Your grades are excellent, you’re mature and responsible, you practice your piano and you help around the house. You even read books, God love ‘ya. Are you still interested?”

She looked at me like I just gave her keys to a new car.

There would be conditions and expectations. I reinforced that smartphones are not a lifestyle necessity, but a luxury. She had to agree to the “electronic device rules” we set up when she was in middle school. (Of course the list was supplemented to address 24/7 Internet access.)

Faster than she could say, “I promise,” we were off to the mobile phone store. Like a moth to a flame, she fluttered across the showroom to the object of her desire: a white, iPhone 5s. When she opened that rectangular white box, she looked as though she had discovered buried treasure.To protect it, she bought a pink and purple case her own money. Ever since, she is cherishing her new acquisition and treats it with kid gloves. For me, instead of feeling like our retail excursion was a dreaded rite of passage, I am proud.

My daughter got a smartphone the old fashioned way. She earned it.These days, she’s more sensible than I ever imagined. She’s well aware that I frown upon any smartphone usage when with others, so she’s considerate. (She knows I will throw it out the window if she starts texting when I’m driving her someplace.) I am optimistic this behavior will continue, although a few infractions are expected.

So to help make a smooth transition to a smartphone, here’s some advice:

1. Patience
If they lose their cell phone or it gets broken, get it replaced with the same type of device. Don’t get worn down and upgrade to a smartphone if you don’t think they’re ready. The longer you wait, the more appreciative your child will be. You will be much happier too, instead of being filled with dread.
2. Responsibility
The child pays for the activation fee, taxes and the data plan. I was blown away when my daughter volunteered to an extra $10 per month for insurance.
3. Control
Buy the phone. (He who giveth can taketh away.)
4. Consistency
Adhere to the rules you set up when your child got his or her first electronic device. Don’t waver. This will be hard, but worth the work. If a smartphone is your child’s first, think it through very carefully. (There’s no turning back!) Are they old enough to handle the Internet when you’re not around? If not, a basic phone will do.
5. Reinforcement
Remind your child that a smartphone is not an entitlement. Like driving, using one is a privilege.

Giving in to constant pressure is the fate of many parents. But caving in leaves many adults frustrated and regretful. So every time the smartphone question rears its ugly head, keep repeating, “Patience, Grasshopper. Good things come to those who wait.”