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Call Me Mean (Maybe): Why I Won't Get a Smartphone for My Teen

Why would someone with a laptop, an iPod, a cellphone and free access to the Internet need a smartphone too? I also ask if she can think of an instance when getting to the Internet at all times is absolutely necessary for someone her age.
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While watching Teen Wolf with my daughter last night, a TV commercial for a smartphone came on. My thinly-veiled attempt to distract her failed. Before I could say, "I don't think Lydia had dimples last season," she seized her opportunity.

"When can I have an iPhone?"

This was becoming the question du jour in our household.

The ad showed images of young people taking pictures, texting and talking about how the smartphone can easily stream video. "Thank goodness," I joked. "Imagine if you couldn't watch movies on your phone? Life would be such a drag!"

"Mom, you are living in the 1950s!"
Why would someone with a laptop, an iPod, a cellphone and free access to the Internet need a smartphone too? I also ask if she can think of an instance when getting to the Internet at all times is absolutely necessary for someone her age.

She didn't miss a beat.

"How about if you're waiting for a bus?"

Her response cemented my decision.

Whatever happened to perusing a good book? Maybe it's a generational thing, but I know one teenager who reads for pleasure. This summer, my daughter read two novels -- and one was required. If someone doesn't want to read, how about just being in the moment? Remember when we used to observe the world around us while waiting for someone or something? Or when we smiled and said hello? The ability to ask directions, read facial expressions and initiate a spontaneous conversation helps develop interpersonal skills. Besides, what happened to manners? Isn't it rude not to pay attention to those you are with? I tell my daughter that real time, face-to-face interaction is a bit more important to her personal growth than checking Instagram every two minutes. "And besides," I add, " What if you get run over by that bus because you're engrossed in Angry Birds?"

Mobile devices can be damaging to a young person's psyche and it's easy to get hooked. A recent South Korean report found that the smartphone addiction rate was 18% among teenagers. Dr. Jonghun Lee, a professor of psychiatry and the study's lead researcher, presented the findings at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting this summer. He stressed that the more smartphones are overused, the greater the risk for severe psychopathologies in adolescents. Those who are dependent on them experience anxiety, insomnia and depression. Some self-aware teens are realizing the toll that checking their smartphones is taking on them. An 18-year old girl told The Wall Street Journal recently, "I hate doing it, but I can't help it... Why did I buy a smartphone? Sometimes I stay up all night using Facebook and Twitter. I quickly became addicted."

A Pew Research Center study found teenage smartphone usage increased 23 percent from 2011 to 2012 and that 37 percent of teenagers owned smartphones last year. Dr. Lee says that the number of adolescents who are addicted will go up, because the popularization of smartphones is an inevitable social trend. And the younger they are, the more vulnerable they are.

There's a lot of talk about limits, balance and moderation. But setting restrictions on smartphone and Internet usage is easier said than done. The web has become a necessity for homework, school communications and research. So, it can be hard to distinguish between an assignment, recreational viewing or school-related texting. Monitoring usage consistently, enforcing time constraints and being on top of content can be overwhelming for most busy parents. This becomes even more difficult when their kids are literally carrying the Internet around with them.
My daughter says she will be the only one at the high school without a smartphone. After asking around, I happily learned that some parents haven't given in -- yet. Most have been worn down, though. A father I know gave one to his 13-year-old, who he hasn't seen now for two weeks. Needless to say, he regrets this decision.

The other day, a little boy and his brother were at the supermarket in one of those fire engine shopping carts. While their pregnant mother rested on a bench, the youngsters amused themselves with toy cars. What good kids, I thought. This idyllic scene came to a screeching halt when their mom took out her smartphone. The toddler started yelling and trying to grab it because he wanted to play a game. His brother joined the chorus. I turned to my daughter and whispered, "Let the addiction begin."

Surprisingly, she smiled. Since then, she's stopped calling me June Cleaver. Maybe I'm getting somewhere. For now, anyway.