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To buy or not, that’s the question

The purchase of an iPhone feels inevitable. Yet we resist.

As the parent of a 12-year-old, I know well the pre-teen desires for a phone. It’s a desire to not be left out. A desire to fit in. A desire to be connected to the rest of the world. Or, in my son’s case, a desire to check the weather 10 times an hour.

Buying him a phone would make our lives easier. Not sure what time the youth group will be back from whatever activity they have left for? If he had a phone, he could just text us when he was ready to be picked up. Instead, we guess on the pickup time, and sometimes miss it. Ready to be picked up from cross country practice? Just text. Oh yeah, you don’t have a phone. I guess we’ll just sit in the car and wait for practice to end.

My son’s lack of a phone results in a lot of waiting around by his parents. All that waiting is irritating.

There are other situations that would be made easier if he had a phone, but we have resisted. The pressure has been relentless though. And not just from him, but from society in general.

When we question what time our son needs to be picked up, the usual response from other parents is: just have him text you. We explain that he has no phone, and they look at us like we are Neanderthals. Maybe we are.

Phones open children to a world of possibilities — both good and bad. It’s the bad, the kind of bad that no child should be exposed to, that steels my resolve to leave him in the dark ages. Imagine all the filth, the trash, the hate, the fear, the criminal activity that can import its way into a young, impressionable child through a phone. It terrifies me.

So, for now, he has no phone. And he can’t understand why. “It’s just a phone,” he says. But it’s not just a phone, not anymore. It’s a computer, a gateway to a place where we can’t protect him.

These are not worries I had to deal with as a child. But if the entirety of the Internet was at my disposal as a 12-year-old, it would not have gone well. I was too immature. My son is, too.

When I was 12, computers were shared devices, much like the TV in the living room. Our family computer lived in a corner of the dining room. It made all sorts of weird, robot sounds when it connected to the Internet, which at the time consisted of eBay, Yahoo mail and chat sites.

No one dared do anything inappropriate on the family computer, because we knew Mom or Dad would sit down in the wicker dining chair at the desk and see everything the computer had seen. We didn’t dare visit a site they would be unhappy with. And the danger, seen and unseen, was less accessible and less vile back then. It’s rampant today.

It hides in plain sight on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Forget the pedophiles and hackers, the biggest danger might be the constant comparing of oneself to peers on social media. The phone creates an unquenchable, chemical desire for “likes” and an unnecessary feeling of being less. Less-wanted. Less-attractive. Less-popular. Less-(fill in the blank).

Some will argue that children are over-protected, that they need to be exposed to the real world in order to learn how to cope with it. At some point, yes, children need to see the world as it is. And a phone will show them the world in all its ugliness. But 12 is not that age, at least not in my opinion.

Some will argue that a child needs a phone for safety. They can call mom and check in no matter where they are. I don’t disagree with that logic, I just can’t trade that teaspoon of safety for a gallon of online danger. 

So what’s a parent to do? We have sought advice from other like-minded, no-phone, Luddite moms and dads, but they are few. The best wisdom has come from parents who’ve given children phones and cautioned us to not do the same. “You will regret it,” they say.

And with that, our son is destined for several more years of being the only kid with no phone. And we are destined to be hated by that same kid.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.