December 17, 2017

Why I won’t let my sixth grader have a cell phone

Why I won't let my sixth grader have a cell phoneBy Julie Samrick

My oldest child begins middle school this week and his pleas for more technology have reached crescendo levels.  He’d like instagram on his iPod; he needs to check You Tube on my laptop “real quick.” Many of his peers have received cell phones for sixth grade, and he’d like to know when he might enjoy this rite of passage too.


Parents with older children tell me that a simple flip phone (if not a full-blown smart phone) is an essential part of the middle school years. It allows them to stay in contact with parents and it’s even a way to stay connected with peers. “Kids kind of miss the boat if they don’t have a phone number to pass out to friends those first few weeks of middle school,” one parent told me just last week.


Now that we’ve had summer to mull it over, I don’t see the point of getting him a phone just yet. Let’s skip past the idea of an expensive piece of equipment in his pocket, or in any 11-year-old boy’s for that matter. Judging by how things went this summer, there wasn’t once he was deserted and needed to call me.


How did we survive without cell phones at the same age? When I’d take off to be with my friends, to ride my bike to the store or to detour to the community pool, I’d call home from my friend’s house or I’d run home first to clear it with my mom.


So a simple flip phone defeats what it is most kids really want today. They want apps.  They want to play Clash of the Clans or check a video on You Tube “real quick.” They want to text, not talk on the phone.

“That’s so old-fashioned,” my son said when I recently told him to call his friend instead of asking me to email the mom.


The average teen sends hundreds of texts a day now, but many parents of teens have told me that when their kids get together with friends in person, “It’s awkward; they don’t talk. They’re all just checking their phones.”


I talked with my cousin at a family reunion in Michigan this summer about how she monitors the phone usage of her high school girls and college-aged son. “I don’t,” she said. “You can’t.” 


That sealed the deal: I am not ready to surrender to this just yet.


Technology isn’t going anywhere and, for better or worse, it will continue to permeate our world. The ultimate reason I am prudent with it in our home is because I see that it affects what is the most important, cerebral pastime for kids and adults alike: reading for pleasure.  Why reach for a book when there are a dozen bells and whistles pinging every minute?


A personal hero of mine, author Kelly Corrigan, recently gave a speech at TED talks, an annual conference to discuss ideas worth spreading. Her talk was the importance of reading more. “Read personal narrative, read poetry, read op-ed, read Doris Kearns Goodwin and Louisa May Alcott and Captain Underpants,” she said. 


She echoed what I fervently believe: everyone is a reader if you find the right book.


Without once discussing the impact of technology, these were Corrigan’s key points and she explained how being a reader for pleasure combats them all:


  • 33% of high school graduates never read a book after graduation.
  • In college the number goes to 42%.
  • When the state of Arizona forecasts how many beds they need for their prisons, they look to the number of kids in 4th grade who read well.
  • The number one cause of divorce is poor communication.
  • And the number one predictor of occupational success is vocabulary.


One of my favorite movie quotes ever comes to mind. It was when Matt Damon’s rough around the edges, but brilliant, character in Good Will Hunting said to the snobby, elitist college kid, “You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.”



  1. Well made points, Julie. I respect and admire the energy and research you put into this decision. You are right about it being a ‘surrender’. Once cell phones enter a child’s life, they are like a visitor that needs constant attention. If I may, here are a few ideas (and lessons) that we’ve experienced.

    – Set up a routine for how the cell phone is handled. Before school ok? Before homework is done? Expect the phone to show up at the dinner table.

    – A kid’s connection to the cell phone causes a disconnection to what’s going on around him – walking into stores; waiting for a doctor’s appt; standing in the hallway; and even sitting on the couch while everyone else in the family is watching a movie.

    – I made my kids put the phone on the kitchen counter as they trotted off to bed. This was a lesson from finding out that other kids were texting late at night and thus my kids weren’t getting a full night’s sleep, which led to sleepy mornings and grumpy days.

    – Follow up on what’s being texted (read the texts at night or through your service provider). I’ve known parents on both sides of this. Some say their privacy needs to be respected. Others say that while they want to respect their privacy, they’re scared witless about sexting.

    – They will text something they would never say in person. (Note: What another kid finds on the internet flows into their friends lives as well.)

    – Kids adapt to whatever structure/rules you set up in the beginning and it does get more liberal as the years tick by. Like your cousin said about her high school and college kids, parents don’t have view into what kids that age do with their phone. Middle schoolers are a different scenario in my mind. Middle school is an important phase in a child’s life because it’s a threshold to high school. They will eventually be able to make their own decisions about drugs and sex, but unsupported use of a cell phone potentially opens them up to learning about, having to talk about, and make personal decisions about things that most parents would want some voice into at this age.

    – A cell phone is the first of many rites of passage over the next several years. How you handle this will probably be similar to how you handle the other passages your child will encounter before they leave for college. Law and order to be followed and obeyed? Benign neglect and hope for the best? Open communication and hope for the best?

    For me, my influence than during their middle and high school years was different than any other time of their lives. I felt like my kids were closely observing what I thought and did; as if they were creating a tool box to move into adulthood. And while most don’t admit it, they do appreciate their parents hanging in there with them through their teenage years.

    Once again, great article!

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  2. Love! Agree! Well said! :)

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