Raising Kids Who DON’T Want Cell Phones

Last week Christopher finished middle school and received his first cell phone on his last day of 8th grade. Needless to say, he was thrilled. Wide smile and eyes beaming. According to him, he only knew of a handful of kids who did not have a cell phone in his large middle school. Has he been miserable for the last three years? Angry with us for denying him what almost everyone else had? Frustrated from all those “bring your device days” when he had to use one of the four classroom computers? No. Not at all. Why not? Because from the time he knew what a cell phone was, we have been preparing him. 

Here are some of our conversation topics spanning the elementary school years:

  • You guys don’t need a cell phone. I never had a cell phone, and I am not still standing outside my middle school because my mom didn’t know when to pick me up. You actually don’t NEED one in high school either, but we have decided to get one for you if you have proven yourself responsible with other things in your life. As parents we’ll provide what you need and some of what you want. This will not be a want we will provide until high school.
  • Other people will want you to think you need one and assume you have one. Teachers will make assumptions that you have one. Other kids will ask for your phone number. That’s OK. This is an opportunity to be bold in your choices and stand firm that you do not need a cell phone.
  • It’s OK that your friends’ parents get them one. We don’t care who has one and who doesn’t. We love when your friends have phones so we can get their phone numbers and get messages to you at school. We will celebrate when your friends get phones so you will see how excited you will be when YOU get your phone. (Assuming you remain responsible and not entitled.)
  • We don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. There is an inner strength that is needed to swim upstream, to think for yourself, to choose the road less traveled. By waiting to get a cell phone, you will know that you CAN think for yourself and survive being different. Be confident in our family’s choice to wait.
  • You will appreciate your phone more if you wait. By waiting until high school you will be so excited on the day you receive your phone and you will appreciate it. You will not feel entitled to it and you will receive it with gratitude.
  • Cell phones are time suckers. With texting, the Internet, and social media all being carried around in your pocket each day, hours can be wasted with little more to show for it than a new selfie in your bathroom posted. Use these years to live in the REAL world rather than on a screen. It’s fun out here.
  • You will be more responsible as a freshman. Incredible maturing happens between sixth grade and freshman year. You will be much less likely to drop your phone in the toilet or lose it at school. This means you will not have to incur the cost of a new phone or go without it for six months.
  • You will avoid three years of social media drama. By the time you are a freshman, kids have a better idea of who they are and who their friends are. You will have avoided working/stressing/obsessing about establishing who you are to the virtual world. You won’t be collecting “followers” or “friends.” Rather you will mature in the peace and safety of an offline world.
  • It’s challenging to navigate the texting world. Sure, you are getting closer to your friends, but parents should NEVER lose their influence as the most significant voice in their child’s life. We know way more stuff than your friends and love you UNconditionally. Lots of kids in middle school begin to retreat from family to the texting world of “LOL” and “Sup?” Many kids who are insecure in who they are will try to find security by constantly texting friends. Group texts can go on for days with your phone vibrating in your pocket every few minutes announcing another teen’s insecurity. Kids text what they would never say face to face. Convos can get sexual fast with this false barrier. These aren’t deep friendships being developed, but rather it can become an invitation to drama that no longer stays at school. Not having a phone during these tumultuous years will avoid this drama and keep you focused on family when you are at home.
  • Cell phones allow too much relational independence. When I grew up my friends called the house and my dad usually talked a bit with my friends before handing me the phone. Your dad and I want to understand your friend-world and connect with them rather than you having secret connections.
  • We will have saved over $1000 by waiting till high school. This is real money. Thanks.
  • Finally, rather than the conversations listed above being adequate in squelching the desire for a cell phone, you must also be sure that your kids understand ENOUGH. This is not done by telling, but by showing. Limit what you buy them, do for them, and do with them. If we want our kids to appreciate what they have been given, they must first understand how much is enough. Consider how you do Christmas, birthdays, random treats, random toys, vacations, activities etc. If your kids receive most of the things they want, you will never be able to convince them that they don’t need a cell phone right now. Find out more about teaching Enough here.

That’s it. At this point three of our boys have survived middle school without ever asking for a phone and the fourth is one year in. If this is the path you choose to go, know that others have gone before you and feel strongly about it. If you decide to allow cell phone use in middle school then I would encourage you to teach about the possible challenges well before they occur.

Talk about excessive texting and social media and sexting.  I hope you will proactively go after the tough conversations even though they feel uncomfortable. I would try not to reward or punish with the phone. This feels manipulative to the child and aligns them more deeply with friends and places an even higher value on the device. Rather than repeatedly taking the phone and returning the phone “if they are good,” consider just taking the phone away for an indefinite period–NOT as a punishment to get a particular behavior but simply because:  “you are not mature enough yet to successfully navigate something as serious as a cell phone. I don’t want this phone to change who you are becoming.”

Feel free to leave comments about what has worked for your family. This would be beneficial as all families in today’s culture have to handle this issue with their children.



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