I know this kid who is going to be ten in a few months.
As we talked about her party, (Zombie Bowling themed), she started talking fast.
“I want a smart phone. I need a smart phone. Why can’t I have a smart phone? I really, really need a smart phone.” You could tell she’d been working on this speech to me for a while.
Please know… she has a phone. She can make calls and text a bunch of close friends and family members.
It was Sunday morning, and I was a cup behind my coffee quota. I wasn’t working. I didn’t need to enlighten this pleading cherub. She wanted a smart phone. She’s a kid I love. I sort of wanted to side with her… maybe even talk her parents into getting this thing she loved so much. I’d spent her entire ten years talking her parents into indulging her every pink glittery thing she wanted when she was younger, and every black, skull-infused thing she wanted once she got older, (though I did get her a sparkly unicorn outfit for Christmas, and I haven’t seen it off her since.)
So, a tired, indulgent Auntie just about colluded with her…. just about talked up the new singing emojis you can transpose your face onto. OMG!
I stopped myself and decided I’d ask a few questions, but vowed I wouldn’t open that file in my brain that had all the stats… all the legitimate concerns… nope, this was Sunday, and she was so cute and enthusiastic in her want of this cultural norm.
“How many of your friends have smartphones?” I was actually interested. I thought that probably every kid she knew had one, because that had sort of been the norm just a year or so ago.
“Um….” she had to think. “Well, probably just Mia.” (I changed the name… don’t worry!)
“Is she always on it?” I asked.
“Yes….!” she said as if I’d asked her if Mia had a roller coaster in her backyard.
“What does she look at?”
“Um….” She actually hesitated. “Well she can play all sorts of games… and watch videos.”
“Is it fun when she’s doing it?” I asked lazily.
“Um…. it’s fun when she lets me play,” she said.
“Does she let you play?” I asked.
“No… not a lot,” she said sadly.
“It she fun when she’s on her phone,” I asked… this was sort of easy.
“No,” she admitted.
“Hmmm.” Dang it…. that file folder in my brain was opening up. All those words I say over and over started to yawn and stretch and clear their throats.
“So, did you know…” I began, “that we’re finding out that kids who are on smartphones all the time aren’t doing so well? They are having a harder time focusing in school. They are having a harder time being good friends. When they get older they are getting more worried and sad. They are not talking with their families as much.”
Now, she’s not even ten yet… so these things took her back. These things are still very important to her.
Then she got quitet.
“I hate it when grown-ups are on their phone, because they just don’t even know I’m there,” she said.
“Hmmmm,” my brain found a stat. “Do you know how many times a day grown-ups check their phone… just to look at it?”
“More than three times?” she guessed.
“Eighty-five,” I said thinking she’d be surprised.
“Yeah… that’s sounds right,” she said, unsurprised.
“Do you know how many times a day grown-ups touch, swipe, type and click their phones?” I asked thinking she’s be so far from the right answer.
“Like 3,000,” she said, just a few hundred above the average of 2,600, but the range for high users is more like 6,000.
“Wow… that’s just about right,” I said, “and for what? A funny little emoji? Is it worth it?” I started to get all worked up, so I took a breath then said, “I think it’s okay to wait awhile… because of all the bad stuff it can bring. I think the cool stuff isn’t cool enough to give up going outside and really playing with people and hanging out with your family.” I said this like a good auntie…an older, wiser auntie.
She nodded.
We negotiated on the present I will get her. It will be black.
I won’t have many more years of influence over her… but until then I’ll use my Sunday mornings wisely.

Elizabeth Clark

About the Author

Elizabeth Clark has been a mental health therapist for teens and families for thirty years.  She is a presenter for CyberStrong, a collaborative community effort, funded by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, to raise awareness and give skills to parents and educators about the influence of technology on our children, families and community.