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My grandma smoked her first cigarette when she was 11. Seriously.

That sounds shocking to us now, of course. It actually kind of makes me giggle, thinking of Mammaw as a little girl lighting one up in the barn and taking a drag, woozy from that first hit of nicotine.

A second more of consideration and the fog of humor lifts as I sober up to the fact that it isn’t just a story, but reality. A child’s lips pressed against the dry paper, naively inhaling a poison so addictive she wouldn’t be able to kick the habit until she was old enough to have grandchildren.

We wonder,

“Didn’t they know how dangerous that was?!”

“What were the adults thinking??”

“I can’t even imagine, giving something so powerfully addictive to a child!”

I got my first cell phone when I was in the 6th grade.

It was a TracFone, one that had to be loaded with minutes. My thumbs quickly became skilled at T9 as I happily chatted away with friends. There was one game—Snake—but the phone was mostly used so I could call my mom and tell her when it was time to come pick me up from cheerleading practice.

As the years went by, technology rapidly shifted, and each new cell phone I received had more capabilities than the one prior. I went from T9 to sliding out a full keyboard to a touch screen, wondering how I ever survived with the previous version.

One of my teachers in high school told us we should never write anything we wouldn’t want to be public information. If we didn’t want that quote with our name alongside it on the front page of the newspaper, then it was better left unsaid.

Did she know screenshots would become a thing?

I shudder at the foolishness I would have said, sent, tweeted, and posted if I had been able to at my daughter’s tender age of nine, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

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Which brings me to the question that burns in my heart and mind so often . . . 

Why is she in the minority of her peers, even friends, as the one without a phone?

And why does it seem like no one is talking about it?

Before I started working at our local elementary school, I figured she was exaggerating about the number of classmates with phones. Turns out, she was probably actually unaware of how many students truly did have access to their own private technology, whether it be smartphones, tablets, smartwatches or the like.

When class dismissed and I journeyed down the hall to leave each day, the Instagram notification tone was deafening.

My best hypothesis is there may be a disconnect for Millennials as parents when we consider buying phones for our children. When we got phones, that’s all they were.

We see that they also have access to fun and even sometimes educational apps, and perhaps remember the innocence of our childhood Gameboys and PlayStations. We played Pokemon, Rock Band, and The Sims to our hearts’ delight, and we turned out fine . . . right?

So why not give our kids a device with which they can quickly contact us AND keep them entertained?

As an adult woman, I struggle with the anxiety and overwhelm that comes along with having a smartphone.

The expectation to always be available, always “on”, always ready to answer a text or reply to a comment. The FOMO that deepens with each scroll, each refresh. The distraction, the lack of true rest.

I am no stranger to the addiction I willingly carry around. And neither are my children. They’ve been on the receiving end of my negative phone behavior, trying to carry on a conversation with their mother only to be met with a half-hearted response as my eyes never meet theirs, fixed on a false reality in my hands.

And I want better for them.

In 50 years, will a woman be standing around in the kitchen telling her friends that her grandma got her first phone when she was only 11, much to the horror of her audience?

“Didn’t they know how dangerous that was?!”

“What were the adults thinking??”

“I can’t even imagine, giving something so powerfully addictive to a child!”

Giving your tween a smartphone is not the same as the phone we had growing up, friend.

That’s why I’m postponing their smartphone debut as long as possible.

I have firsthand experience in the ways my phone has negatively impacted me as a person and I am actively trying to course-correct.

We are the first generation of parents navigating these murky waters. Some parents I know, love, and deeply respect have bought smartphones for their children, and I’m sure they have valid reasons. I don’t share my concerns because I wish to shame or judge them.

The technology isn’t going away. Social media isn’t either.

But I’m afraid the innocence of childhood IS the second we give them personal access to the internet and social media.

So this year, when I see “phone” and “tablet” at the top of the birthday lists (again), I will gladly move on to “Baby Alive” and “Play-Doh” while they’re still there.

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Morgan Massey

A former teen mom & recovering perfectionist, Morgan writes to give unexpected hope to other women drowning in anxiety, depression, motherhood, or just...life.  She lives in Indiana with her family.  

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