My 14-year-old son just started high school, and he does not have his own smartphone. When I tell people this, I get the same face I imagine I would if I said that I hadn’t fed him for several days. My son is fine, though—really. I don’t think he’s ever been lost, stranded, or even inconvenienced by his lack of that quintessential 21st-century accessory.
My son and his brother, one year his junior, are not living in the Dark Ages. They each have a tablet, loaded with a souped-up internet filter and time restrictions, that they use at home. My boys are not like the kid I met in college who had grown up without TV and didn’t appreciate the cultural relevancy of Bo and Luke Duke or George Jefferson. My kids readily quote Ron Swanson and Dwight Schrute. They text, they Snap—but only on weekends and a little bit this past summer. What sets them apart from most of their friends is that neither of them owns a portable device connected to the internet that can be hidden in the depths of their baggy Under Armour shorts.
Now that my oldest is in ninth grade, it occurs to me that this decision not to buy him the one thing that every other kid has might be the most subversive, countercultural gesture of my entire life. I’m a total conformist. I follow the rules. I return my library books on time or pay the fine. My husband is a captain in the Navy—certainly not countercultural. As soon as the first baby came along, we bought a minivan. We’ve never been out there trying to make any bold statements. And yet, when it comes to allowing my teenagers access to smartphones, I am apparently a rebel. Is resisting this ubiquitous technology really worth it?