Give Your Kid a Smartphone!: One Mom’s Controversial Approach to the Teenage-Smartphone Epidemic

Give Your Kid a Smartphone!: One Mom’s Controversial Approach to the Teenage-Smartphone Epidemic

My approach with my kids has generally been to keep smartphones away from them as long as socially possible, and then when I can no longer delay the inevitable, allow smartphones without a browser.
But (as I’ve recently discovered) those teenagers eventually grow into young adults with their own bank accounts and smartphones of their choosing.
Does the fact that I’d limited their access to smartphones or iffy internet content until that point prepare them for that point in their lives when they will be choosing where to surf, not their smartphone-allergic Eema?
This past Shabbat at my daughter’s high school, all the 9th-grade parents sat together with the school’s director to discuss the smartphone-teenager conundrum. It was a lively meeting, and a lot of different opinions were expressed regarding ways to keep our kids away from smartphones.
But one mother who spoke expressed a completely opposite point of view. I don’t think any of the parents present (and certainly not the school’s director) shared her opinions.
But I thought she brought up some important points and I am curious to open up this discussion here, and to hear what YOU think about the comments of JewishMOM Chava Shatz, a business and life coach as well as master NLP practitioner:

“I believe that banning smartphones from schools is an extreme approach. The world is advancing, and ignoring that fact isn’t an option.
“Here are the steps I would suggest to most effectively educate our children regarding smartphone use.
“1. Don’t Panic: When you see your child using a smartphone in a way you don’t like, don’t radiate panic. Rather radiate security and stability. We love them even when they are doing things that are less acceptable or that we’d prefer not to see them doing.
“2. Normalize: Remind yourself that our kids’ desire to be exposed to new things and to do what their friends are doing is normal and understandable.
“3. Moderation–Keep an eye on how much time our children are spending with their phones.
“4. Empowering Correct Choices–We must teach our children that each of us has the ability to choose, and each of us is responsible for the choices we make. Regarding smartphones, we must choose time and time again. What will I watch? What will I look at? What am I investing my precious time in?
“It’s important for us to remember, and to teach our children, that the subconscious documents, preserves and burns into our brains every single experience we have, from all 5 senses, And after we have experienced something, that experience is recorded and saved in our brains forever as a thing we’ve already encountered, something that’s familiar.
“When a person views harsh or extreme scenes or images, they are recorded and burned into their brains and converted into something that the brain considers legitimate. Something that the spirit and consciousness find bearable.
“And the more harsh and extreme images we see, those things become more and more something that lands on soft ground, familiar ground, making it seem more and more legitimate.
“We don’t start educating our children as teenagers. We need to be speaking with them about this from a young age. The central, most important message being that the choice is in our hands.
“I don’t think it’s proper to forbid teenagers to use smartphones. Rather, we have to bring them to understand what is truly right for them. What brings them good feelings, lights up their spirit. And, on the other hand, what makes their spirit feel dark, less sensitive and coarse so that it swallows negative images and misconstrues them as something acceptable and legitimate.
“May we be blessed to succeed in this crucial endeavor!”

So what do I take from Chava’s controversial approach? I’m personally not planning to give my young teenagers unrestricted smartphone or internet access. I don’t think they’re old or mature enough to make wise decisions wandering around the dark alleys of the internet.
But Chava’s approach does open up my eyes in a big way regarding something else. The fact that my home computer is filtered and my kids either don’t have or have kosher smartphones is not necessarily educating them about how to make the right choices regarding smartphone use–should they be confronted with that choice today or (almost inevitably) in the future. I need to be talking more with my kids about this crucial issue, not just keeping it at a distance.

So, JewishMOM, What do YOU think? Share your thoughts on teenagers and smartphones below:

15 comments

  1. This is so funny! I’m writing a report for my philosophy class exactly on this topic! I’m siding with you though.

  2. I also found Chava’s approach eye-opening. Again I side with you, I’m definitely not getting my kids smartphones as long as I can avoid it but what makes a lot of sense to me is that just not giving them is not enough. Frum teenagers may not receive any education on how to deal with the internet and the inappropriate content as well as the massive amount of misinformation and conspiracy theories that are presented there. Time and time again I meet frum adults who then do use the internet and get swept away with questionable but seductive ideas and theories that they don’t know how to question or process. Secular teenagers will have a lot of this exposure but they will also learn to protect themselves out of necessity because of that. I think frum kids would really benefit from more help in this area, not just a complete ban. Sounds to me also that in many cases schools expect parents to say they don’t have internet so they will have to say that and are too scared to admit if their kids do have exposure in case the schools or neighbours find out. And again everyone loses when the issues are not dealt with.

  3. There are enough sophisticated, well-rounded teenagers who don’t have an iphone, which is proof enough to the fact that it’s totally possible–if hard to stand in face of peer pressure from both other parents and the children’s peers– to raise them without it. I think that what is called here “teenage smartphone epidemic” is really the epidemic of parents handing their teenagers smartphones, or allowing them to buy it with their babysitting money. Otherwise, we are in fact saying that we’d lost our authority over our children. Also, just like I wouldn’t leave a cake at the center at the table and then hover over my child to see how much of it she’s devouring, I don’t want to give my children a device that then forces me to answer for them when they whatsapp inappropriately or be worried about what they’re watching. I’d rather give them access to the home computer, here at the dining table where I’m writing this, and let their hands and minds be free when they are out and about, alone or with friends. P.S. My teenagers tell me all the time how much they appreciate this policy. Thanks Jenny for raising this!

    • Monica Haddad

      Let’s face it, we don’t want or like smartphones for our children. How did they get into “frum schools” in spite of the fact that most of the schools ban smartphones or even TV’s at home?????

      Because one of the parents broke the “cartel” and bought their kid a smart phone. This mom is usually one of the wealthier moms so even if the school knows about it, they won’t say anything or even kick the kid out of the school.

      I held out until the very end to get my child a smart phone. If you think the kids aren’t smart enough to bypass the filters, think again; they are much more savey than we are.

      The best you can hope for us to teach your child the right values, don’t panic if you find out they viewed inappropriate material and tell them you trust them (even if you’re biting your tongue). I agree with Chava’s approach…for my family. But every child is a universe and you may have to tweak how you deal with this issue that IS NOT going away.

      • I respect your approach and opinion.
        I’ve noticed that the problem with smartphones and the addictions they create go way deeper than the issue of filtering and modest\immodest content and kids hacking the system. The unintended-consequences of carrying around such an addictive device from a very young age go farther and deeper than the unfiltered exposure to inappropriate stuff.
        I’m aware that I’m representing an unpopular opinion, and I think I speak more to mothers who are still debating whether to hand their children/teens smartphones and would be happy to know that they will not be alone if they decide to wait for as loooooooooooong as possible. (I understand from Jenny’s post that her approach is similar). My opinion is about preventing, and surely less relevant to mothers whose kids already carry smartphones.

        • This is a wonderful topic. I personally gave up my smartphone around 3 years ago and traded it in for a flip phone. I agree that the addictive qualities of phones is one of the most dangerous factors. I 100% believe in empowering children through choices. However, children’s brains are still developing (sometimes up until 25) with the ability to reason appropriately. The best thing we can do is model. Our kids want to do what we are doing (especially when they are young) and then that reinforces it if they see their peers doing it. Smart Phones should not be in any schools and especially not schools for our precious yiddisha kinderlach. And even though this is not a widely accepted opinion, I truly believe all internet (and smart phones if you choose to have one) should be filitered. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. my approach to phones in general is this: no phones of any kind until my child has finished high school and is working to pay for their phone. until that point i will have been talking with them about the effects of what they see/read on their subconscious for years, and they have seen their friends become obsessed with “that stupid phone”.

    my main concern has not been the content of the phone so much as the effect of the phone. namely, that restricting one’s communication system to texting/voice notes/emojis severely limits one’s ability to hear what other people are really saying, to learn to read people’s expressions, to hear the silences and pauses that give full meaning to what they are saying.

    that is what i tell my children when they turn 14 and complain that , “everyone else has a phone!!” then i point out how their friends are frequently hurt by unintended or misread interpretations of text conversation. and invite my child to watch just how well their friends are coping with the phone….or not.

    I tell them that as their mother, it is my responsibility to make sure they have basic communication skills and mentschlikeit before i send them out in the world. that is why i want them to stay away from phones, so that they can learn those important life skills before they leave the nest.

    • Monica Haddad

      That’s a great approach….as long as a mother at your kid’s school doesn’t break the cartel (in spite of the school administration’s rules against it)…..once that mom breaks the “cartel” and gets her kid a phone, it starts an epidemic and every kid will get one. Except your kid??? He/she is going to be the last one standing? Tried it, it doesn’t work. Better to deal with the inevitable realty, of not if, but of when the smartphone.

      • yes, i was that mother, the one that didn’t give her daughter a cellphone. i got a call from the high school, asking me if it was REALLY true that my daughter didn’t have a cellphone. the principal was surprised that it was true. how could my daughter be the ONLY one out of 450 girls without any kind of phone? i reminded the principal that she was principal 20 years ago when NO ONE had cellphones–they were still just a dream.
        and just so you know, in the high school that my girls attend, just about everyone has a smartphone.
        as i wrote before, i stress the effects of the phone to my kids. and occasionally i hear them complaining about their friends’ inability to follow a normal conversation. so i think my message has made a bit of an impact…

      • i am not aiming for 100% compliance here. i suspect that some of my kids figured out a way around this approach. the goal is to educate them about the effects of cellphone use/abuse.
        awareness is half of the cure…

  5. For help with instilling in young children the simple understanding that we can get to choose what we put in our souls, you might want to check out my picture book, Let’s Stay Pure: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9657599083/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i16

  6. Coming from the other side, My mother is in her 60’s and I find her addictive and unhealthy use of her smart-phone offensive, hurtful, and painful to watch. She doesn’t realize it, but she can barely have a conversation with her children, grandchildren or anyone else. Years of this behavior has caused her to become extremely disconnected from herself and others I personally wish my mother never got a smart phone.

  7. This conversation and your blog chanajenny is eye-opening. I always took a no phone approach in theory ( my oldest is 13), but after reading this, it spoke to me bec I am very open and discuss everything with my daughters (ages 12 and 13). So this is a new approach I’ve been discussing and telling ppl about. Thank you!

  8. I just want to point out that a lot of this has to do with the community you’re in, so one jewishmom’s answer might not be relevant for another. If you’re in a community where parents don’t buy their kids smartphones and only “bad kids” go out and buy them for themselves, your methods might be different from those mothers here whose kids are the last holdouts in school.

    Personally I hate the “don’t go there, it’ll mess up your brain and soul” method, because I think it arouses curiousity in naturally curious young people. I opted for a much more technical, let-me-explain-what-internet-is-and-how-it-works method, to take the mystery and charm out of it.

    If anyone needs this technical information, aside from the fact that it’s on the web (irony), I’d be happy to share my “lecture”…

    Hatzlacha to us all in fighting off this plague!

  9. Shavua tov,
    Last week KavL’Noar (an organization for teens in Israel) showed the film “Screenagers” in Efrat, with a discussion afterward led by psychiatrist Dr. Jenny Goldstein. The movie dealt with many common issues, such as peer pressure, parents difficulty setting boundaries, parental overuse of screens, kids exposed to immodest content, etc. It also explained the effect screentime has on human brains from a physiological standpoint.
    Highly recommend showing this in communities, even though the perspective was mainstream America and not specifically frum.

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