Teen Cell Phone Usage: Where the Fault Lies

Cell phones are ruining the attention spans and socialization of our teens and pre-teens.

95% of teens have smart phones, or access to a smart phone. ( Pew Research )

We look around and bemoan the fact that teens (and let’s be honest - ADULTS) are addicted to their cell phones, yet we do little more than complain - then go back to checking Instagram or FB on our own phones - but it’s ok because we are ADULT and we can handle it.

If you can’t beat ‘em you might as well join ‘em.

After all, those smart phones sure keep kids occupied and out of our hair. (We like to say it helps us keep in touch with them when they are away from us - but I wonder how my parents ever kept track of me?)

What a sad commentary on the current state of parenting.

We’ve deluded ourselves into thinking these devices are a necessary evil, so we might as well just give them to our kids (keeping up with the Joneses) so they can learn how to deal with them at a young age.

These wonderful “tools” are killing our children’s attention spans and decreasing their attention spans to less than that of a goldfish. They are also harming our children’s mental health.

(Believe me, as someone who runs an online business I understand the value of smart phones - but NOT for our children!)

Teen Cell Phone Usage: Parents, this is YOUR Fault!

Parents, I’m sure you’re a bit upset with me right now - or maybe you are cheering because you agree with me. Whatever the case, read on. I want to share with you how we are fighting the good smart phone fight and the differences and changes we are noticing in our home.

I will stand by this statement: Parents, if your children are addicted to their smart phones, it is squarely on YOUR shoulders.

We live in age where we don’t want to hear this, but parents - we need to step up and take control for this generation of kids. We complain about how our world is devolving, and this is one of the most concrete things we can do to impact change.

When to Give a Teen a Smart Phone

The short answer is this: NEVER give your teen their OWN smart phone.

(remember, sometimes being NORMAL looks WEIRD)

The minute you put a smart phone in their hands you open up an entire WORLD to them - literally in the palm of their hand. Games, videos, social media, pornography - you name it, they can access it.

I once had a friend who put it to me simply, “Why would I place that amount of temptation directly in my child’s hands?”

You are probably arguing with me right now, “Well, there are parental controls and restrictions. My child won’t have access to all of the junk.” That fine - do you really want to spend a large chunk of your time being the cell phone police? Or, would you rather spend that time investing in actually BEING with your children.

Lest you think I have this down perfectly, I don’t. We gave a smart phone to our oldest at 13 and have regretted the decision ever since. It opened a Pandora’s box we can never close again. She uses her phone more than we would like. My youngest (now 14) has never had a smart phone, and will not have his own until he can pay for the phone and the service himself. Period. We don’t have cell phone struggles with him.

Why You Shouldn’t Give Your Child a Smart Phone

How to Stand Your Ground with a NO Smart Phone Policy

We have to fight for the hearts and minds of our children.

There are so many competing forces out there that would seek to destroy our children. We must protect our children fiercely.

A no cell phone policy for our youngest plays out in real life like this:

  • He is part of a community of home education families that are on basically the same page about cell phones. We have made a commitment to educate our children and have them in social situations without cell phones present. This has taken intentionality and planning.

  • To satisfy that need our kids have to communicate with technology my son does have an old iPhone with no cell service. He can iMessage with his friends. He can listen to music approved by us. He is NOT allowed to have this device whenever he wants. He has specific times he can use the device. It is old and SLOW - not very appealing to use!

  • He will have a “home cell phone” that is here if he needs to make a call, or can be taken with him if he is in a situation where he needs a phone. It is not HIS - and he can borrow it during those times.

  • When children come to our house they know we don’t do phones - kids are here to have fun and socialize. A couple of my son’s friends have phones and they happily surrender their phones to us.

  • When my son is working and making money, he is welcome to save for a phone and pay for the service.

  • Lobby for no cell phone policies in other places! Chances are, other parents might enjoy you taking the lead on this. I have fought for years to have our youth group be a no cell phone zone! My kids just get over the fact that I am “that” mom.

The point is this: Parents it is up to YOU to take charge of your household. Set limits early and often. This will take WORK on your part (you might have to spend less time on your phone!).

Spend TIME with your children. Make opportunities for them to be active in sports, music, clubs, church. Give them HEALTHY outlets. When they have too much time on their hands they get restless.

By the same token, give them room to breathe, and model for them what to do in their free time. Read books, exercise, cultivate a hobby.

Choose your friend base and school situation wisely. This will impact your child for the rest of their lives.

Benefits of a NO Smart Phone Policy

Because my 14 year old does NOT have a cell phone, here is what I notice:

  • When riding in a car my child is engaged with me. We talk, listen to podcasts and music together. I don’t allow him to zone out on me with his headphones.

  • When riding somewhere with other children - my child has to TALK to those kids. They come up with fun things to do on a road trip. They INTERACT. There are have been times when he is one of the only ones with a cell phone. Those times have been hard, but sometimes it IS hard to swim upstream.

  • The first thing accomplished in the morning ISN’T checking a cell phone. It is eating breakfast and doing devotions and reading.

  • I believe kids without smart phones are happier because they don’t have the constant barrage of social media pressure and influence. They can simply be themselves.

  • It’s CHEAPER for the family. (enough said)

  • Not having a smart phone leaves infinitely more time for other endeavors!

  • It is easier to parent a child who doesn’t have a smart phone because we don’t have the intense competition against the world!

  • It teaches your child to be less self-absorbed, and more involved with the world around them. It helps them actually SOCIALIZE, instead of virtually socializing.

Smart Phones and Teens: Teens without Smart Phones are Happier

Not having a cell phone means HAPPIER kids!

The ironic thing is this: most kids would tell you their lives would be WORSE without a cell phone, but our children don’t have the life experience to know what is best for them. Teens without smart phones are able to derive genuine happiness from human interactions and creativity, not a device.

And if you’re saying, “Well, they need to know how to behave with a smart phone. It’s better to learn it under my guidance.”… I respectfully disagree.

Your children, when they can afford their own phone, will come up to speed quite quickly, and I believe they won’t be as enamored with one because they have done without it for so long.

Resources for Teens Smart Phone Issues

Keep yourself steeped in resources and a community that supports your no smart phone policy for your teens.

The following books can help:

Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless WorldGrowing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven WorldThe 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children EffectivelyThe Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper PlaceDisconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted KidsGlow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids - and How to Break the Trance


I would love to know your smart phone policy.

Remember, we’re all here for the betterment of our families!

Leave me a comment below and let’s get a discussion started.