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How Hand-Me-Down Phones Are Hurting Our Kids

Three reasons why giving your teen your old phone is not a good idea.

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Photo via Shutterstock
Photo via Shutterstock

The temptation is real. You need to upgrade your phone. So, what will you do with your old one? Trading it in doesn’t amount to much, nor does selling it. You could stick it in the drawer with other discarded electronics and cords. But when you have a teen begging for her own phone, the answer seems like a no-brainer, right?

Wrong.

Many parents think the right time to give their kid a phone is when they upgrade to a new one. But what is that right time logic based on? Your desire to have an updated phone? Or the phone company’s salesperson’s desire to meet his sales goal? After all, teens need smartphones, right? 

Again, wrong.

The salesperson at the cellular store should not determine the best age for you to give your child a smartphone. His job is to sell phones, not raise your kids. For good reason, the phone company cannot legally enter into a contract with a teen; they need parents to give in. But your teen’s mental health and brain development deserve a better plan. Consider these three common sense reasons to avoid the hand-me-down phone trap.

When we make decisions based on convenience, we pay a big price. 

Teenage brain development can’t be scheduled or rushed. The day that you need to upgrade your phone will not naturally coincide with your teen’s readiness for the 24/7 distractions of a smartphone. Remember that his intelligence and his skill with technology have nothing to do with his maturity.  When we give something as powerful as a smartphone to our child too soon, we set him up for failure because he is not developmentally ready for the responsibility that comes with carrying such a powerful device.  Never base a potentially life-altering decision on the convenience it promises.

When we make decisions based on kid logic, we fail. 

Your kids have been lobbying for a phone since middle school…or earlier. You’ve heard the arguments:

  • “Mom, you need a new phone. I can just have yours. It’s perfect!”  
  • “I am mature.”
  • “All my friends have one and I have to be in touch with you.”
  • “So-and-so’s mom trusts her. She let her have one!” 

We should all be impressed with their argumentative skills. Perhaps we should even encourage them to become lawyers. But don’t let a middle schooler’s attempt at persuasion wear you down. You know what’s best for your child, and more studies are showing us that a smartphone is not what’s best for our tweens and teens.

Your relationship will change.  

The hand-me-down phone seems like a perfect solution, but you will be disappointed sooner than you think. At first, your teen will be busy nominating you for Mother of the Year. But that honeymoon phase will soon fade. The minute she stumbles upon something she shouldn’t see, gets hurt by a friend’s post, or feels guilty for sending an inappropriate photo, she will blame you, the former Mother of the Year, who gave her a smartphone but then failed to protect her. No amount of parental controls or contracts is guaranteed to prevent your teen from falling into any one of the many pitfalls that a smartphone puts in her path well before she is prepared to avoid them. Ask any veteran parent of a high school teen if they have ever found a parental control system that consistently works in real life the way it is advertised. They haven’t. 

Once you start competing with the allure of a smartphone, conversations with your teen will decrease in quantity and quality almost overnight. In addition, your decision to give her a smartphone communicates that you think she is prepared to fight off the sexual predators, avoid porn, ignore gossip, and even resist requests for nudes from the boy in English class. Before the smartphone was there, you were her compass, but now you are just one of thousands of new voices that offer to help her navigate relationship problems and life questions. Her truth north just got reset.  Did they bother to tell you that in the fine print when you added her to your phone contract?

There is a better way.

Reverse the bad decision. 

You are the parent and you are in charge. You can take that phone back as quickly as you gave it. Simply smile, explain your mistake, and take the phone back. Will this be an easy conversation? No. And it probably won’t be a pleasurable day…or week. But you are the parent. You care about him and you want what’s best for him. Sometimes that means making hard decisions but, in the long-run, those decisions will be well worth it. 

Use your old phone for good. 

Donate your hand-me-down phone to a good cause. Help soldiers call home or victims of domestic violence. These soldiers or abused moms need your hand-me-down phone much more than your teen. Put your old phones to good use and don’t keep them hanging around your house. Your teen can still use Wi-Fi on old devices even if the device is not activated. 

Go basic.

When the time is right for your teen to have a phone, start with a less powerful basic phone so you can see how he does. This is called training. We recommend a basic phone solution through high school. A basic phone allows no internet or social media which, in the hands of teens, can be highly addictive, distracting, and in some cases, even lead to depression, loneliness, and thoughts of suicide. You might even be surprised by how well your teen develops mentally and socially without your old $800 piece of technology getting in the way! 

Our kids depend on us to make decisions based on common sense and science, not on convenience. Give your teen a better chance to grow up balanced and healthy. You will both be glad you did! 

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