I Thought My Teen was Old Enough to Have a Phone. I was Wrong

Before my son’s 11th birthday, he started saving money for a cell phone. He worked for my father caring for his cows, and started doing lots of extra jobs around the house.

Before we knew it, he had a few hundred dollars saved and asked repeatedly if he could spend it on a phone.

His father and I were a bit reluctant and wondered if he was old enough to have a phone. But after having many talks, we felt he was ready and could handle it.

He enjoyed hijacking our phones and loved watching videos about cars and reading bikes and reading up on both. He was a responsible child who behaved himself and never got into trouble in school.

We also figured since he was in middle school and staying home alone more, it was a good idea for him to have one.

Is your teen old enough to have a phone?

He was incredibly excited the night we walked into the Verizon store and he was able to pick out exactly what he wanted. I’ll never forget the look of pride on his face as the manager told him he was impressed when my son handed him his wad of cash and told him he’s earned it and saved for over 6 months.

His first year of being a cell phone owner went smoothly, and we felt we had made a good decision.

But the following year, after going through puberty, something changed. Instead of being able to take long breaks from his phone, I found we started fighting about it all the time. He constantly wanted to be on it, was losing interested in doing some of the things he’d loved, like riding his bike and playing sports with his friends.

Even going out to eat as a family, something he used to love to do, became an event that would make him incredibly anxious since we’d make him leave his phone at home. He would eat really quickly, then try and rush everyone else out of there so he could get back to his device.

The more he did this, the less I’d let him have it. There were times when he was able to relax and realize if he was too consumed with his phone, he would lose it, but for the most part I could see he was struggling with self-control.

He began sneaking it to school, in his room, and into the bathroom– all of which is against the rules in our house. It was clear his phone was ruling his life and his every thought.

I would take it away from him for weeks at a time, and he’s always say how he did miss it, and act out at first, but he always seemed genuinely happier when he didn’t have the phone because he’s then start engaging with other people and do some of his favorite hobbies again.

He has a tendency to be an anxious kid, I see my OCD in him, and achieving balance is hard. I know because I struggle with obsessive behavior myself, but as an adult, I know when to step away from my computer and phone. As soon as I start feeling sad or depressed, I know it’s time to walk away.

I sat down and talked to him about this once after he lost his phone for a month, and he finally admitted to me he felt happier without it. He was sleeping better and having dreams again, something he said has disappeared when he spent lots of time on his phone.

I thought maybe he had turned a corner, and realizing this for himself, it might bring change to his obsessive behavior where his phone was concerned.

But once again, I was wrong. This fall, he snuck it to school and recorded a teacher without her permission and put it on Snapchat. And that was it for him.

He has proven time and time again he is not capable of having a cell phone. It’s clear the pressure gets to him and makes him feel anxious, and less than. The judgment he uses us horrible when it comes to his phone. He constantly wants to try and keep up, and is not able to put it down for hours at a time, even if I force it upon him. The fighting and going back and forth about it was too much and it was damaging our relationship.

That was over three months ago and he has not had it since. My 14-year-old son will not be getting his cell phone back anytime soon, and while it was a very tough realization for him (and me) at first, something wonderful has come of it: I have my son back.

His anxiety has settled down and he no longer seems on edge. He goes to bed earlier, sleeps better, and genuinely seems happier. His interest in doing other things is back. He is polite, never rushed us when we are out anymore and it has benefited the whole family.

I wish it wasn’t like this –  I’d love for him to be able to have his device back and feel like he can handle the temptation in a normal healthy way. But for now, it’s not working. Not for him, not for me, and not for the rest of the family.

We will try again, I’m sure. Maybe in a year, maybe in two, I’ve no idea right now.

I do know some kids are not able to handle the responsibility of having a cell phone, and my teenager is one of them. And as his mother, it was my job to figure that out and adjust the rules accordingly.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous.


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About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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