Tweens, Friends, and Phones

Marie Osborne

Marie Osborne
Updated Jul 15, 2024
Tweens, Friends, and Phones

Knowing that their phone use is right around the corner has convicted me of my own phone misuse because the clock is ticking.

When I was 10 years old, I was riding my bike and climbing trees. When I was 10 years old, I was reading every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on. When I was 10 years old, I was just beginning to think about training bras and still thought boys were gross. When I was 10 years old, I read books, wrote in my diary, and listened to the radio. Now I have a 10-year-old, and I watch her do much of the same.

When I was 10 years old, I didn’t have an email address or an iPhone or an Instagram handle. When I was 10 years old, I had no idea what the internet was or the dangers that lurked there. When I was 10 years old, the only screen in my house was the television. Now, I have a 10-year-old, and things are very different.

We have televisions, iPads, computers, laptops, and iPhones. Correction—I have an iPhone. My 10-year-old does not. But some of her friends do. And that’s what worries me.

The Ages and Stages of Smart Phones

We’ve had long conversations about cell phones and why our three kids don’t have them. We know some families who have made the same choice and some who have made different choices. Regardless of what their friends are doing, I’ve had to navigate how to handle technology with my own kids. Not just what age I think is appropriate to give them a cell phone, but teaching them how to deal with friends who have cell phones when they don’t.

So far, we have decided to base our technology decisions on practical needs. Right now, the kids have very basic smartwatches so that my husband and I can contact them when they are at after-school activities or sports practices. The only people they can text are each other, myself, and my husband. There is no internet access, no games, no apps. Just texting among our five family members, and they only use the watches when absolutely necessary.

We have discussed moving them up to a “dumb phone” so they can have phone conversations and do basic texting. Again, the point is to be able to contact us and have basic communication with their friends. I remember being 14 and wanting to talk to my friends on the phone, so I understand their desire to do that. I want to allow them to build relationships and strengthen connections with friends without exposing them to the damaging parts of phone ownership too young. 

When they are able to drive, we would like to move them up to a very basic smartphone that gives them maps and allows us to see their location. No social media, no internet, no extraneous apps. Just texting, phone calls, maps, and photos. At 16, we think this is an appropriate step up in responsibility as long as they adhere to a few rules. No cell phones in their bedroom at night, and no texting when spending time with family and friends. 

Their senior year of high school, we will have a discussion about smartphones if they want to, but we will see how it goes. It’s my hope and prayer that by the time they experience the benefits of reduced phone use, they will have observed the negative impact phones have had on their friends. If things keep going the way they are, I’m certain that will be the case.

The Impact of Phones on Friendships

My 10-year-old has 10-year-old friends with cell phones. She has noticed the impact the phone use has had on their relationship. They used to play pretend, ride bikes, and have adventures. Now their friends want to watch YouTube videos, take selfies, and scroll through Spotify. They always have a reason to pick up their phones, even though their parents have not given them social media. They always find something to do on the phone, some song to look up, some picture to take, some video to watch. Gone are the days of screen-free play, and I’ve had to prepare my daughter for that change.

She doesn’t watch videos over her friend’s shoulder. She doesn’t get involved in what her friend is doing on that little screen. If her friend gets sucked into her phone, she gently asks her to put it away so they can play something else. But she has also come home disappointed and lonely, telling me how frustrated she is that her friend got a phone, that it has ruined the fun they used to have, and that she never wants to be that way.

My 12-year-old son has friends with cell phones, too. He has noticed the impact on his friendships in other ways. He used to talk with his friends, draw, read books, build things, play video games. Now that his friends are getting phones, they text other friends who aren’t there. They ignore him or don’t even hear what he is saying. He, too, has come home disappointed and lonely, telling me how boring his time was with his friend, sad that things had to change, wondering if things would be better if he had a phone as well.

Am I Setting a Good Phone Example?

I wonder how watching their friends will impact their draw to cell phones. I wonder how watching me will impact them, too. Now that they are old enough to start seeing phones in the hands of their peers, they are noticing the phone in my hand as well. They call me out when I’m texting at dinner or looking things up during our family time. They ask me what I’m watching if they notice I’m scrolling through my feed. Knowing that their phone use is right around the corner has convicted me of my own phone misuse because the clock is ticking.

When I was 10 years old, these problems didn’t exist. When I was 10 years old, the problems were very different. I have no blueprint for how to navigate phones and the tween years because I’ve never seen it done before. This technology is so new that we are still finding out how it will impact each of us. So far, the data isn’t good. I’m not sure if I’m making the right decisions or if there is a better way to help my tweens deal with friends and phones, but I do know this: I’m doing the best I can and leaving the ultimate responsibility to God. That’s all any of us can do.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Eliott Reyna