Should you buy a smartphone for your teen this Christmas?

December 5, 2018

When I was in high school, there was one phone line in our house, and a portable phone on each level of the house for all of us to share. I never felt the need to have a phone in my own room, but I remember that having one in your own room was considered very “cool” in the 90s. Back then, if you decided to give your teenagers their very own room phones for Christmas, you were giving them just that—a phone. They could talk to their friends in private, but ultimately, you were aware of what they were doing on the phone. They were talking with someone.

Fast forward to 2017 when a computer, camera, social network, and access to the internet are all housed in one small device that can fit in your teen’s back pocket. When your teenager is using a phone these days, you really have no idea what he or she is doing. Is he texting a friend about football practice, or is he looking at pictures of girls on Instagram? Is she doing research for her history project, or is she posting selfies on Snapchat?

When you give your teenager a smartphone you are not merely giving him or her a cool technological toy; you are giving him or her the keys to access an entire world to explore without you nearby. So before you buy him that brand new smartphone for Christmas this year, consider these two things:

1. Is he or she emotionally prepared for a smartphone?

If you have a daughter who is extremely self-conscious about her body, giving her a smartphone and access to social media apps may do her more harm than good. Can she handle seeing her peers at school post their best versions of themselves online? Will she compare herself to other girls and feel unworthy?

Do you have a son with an addictive personality? Handing him a smartphone which allows him instant access to numerous vices may not be the best idea. Evaluate how your teens have handled other privileges before. Were they grateful and responsible, or did they act entitled and foolish?

2. Are you emotionally prepared for your teenager to have a smartphone?

Do you remember when you learned to drive a car? Did your parents just hand you the keys? No, they took you out to an empty parking lot first and showed you the basics. From there, you gradually began driving on city streets, then highways. The process of learning to drive a car was gradual. You learned in stages. Most of you likely attended Driver’s Ed and took a test before even receiving your license.

If you are not willing to invest the time and emotional effort into teaching your teenager about how to use a smartphone, it may be wise to choose to another gift this Christmas.

It always surprises me that parents don’t view a smartphone in this same way. If you decide your teenager is ready for a smartphone this Christmas, you will need to set aside some time on Christmas day to show him or her how to use it and discuss parameters for usage. But don’t just stop there. When I say you need to be emotionally prepared, I mean you need to be ready to talk about online predators, sexting, online bullying, what should and should not be posted on social media, etc. If you are not willing to invest the time and emotional effort into teaching your teenager about how to use a smartphone, it may be wise to choose to another gift this Christmas.

When you look at your schedule this holiday season, if you realize you won’t have a lot of time to do some initial smartphone training with your teen, it may be best to delay this for another date. Smartphones are not going away. Get one for your teen because you have the capacity and time to teach them another valuable life skill, not because you want to make Christmas memorable.

Julie Masson

Julie Masson serves as Director of External Engagement for the ERLC. She is responsible for strategic planning, development and implementation of the ERLC brand strategy across all ERLC departments and provides leadership and oversight for the ERLC marketing team as well as coordinating external affairs and partnership deliverables. Julie and her husband Jesse … Read More