The alternative approach is to keep the smartphone genie in the bottle. Stick with a family desktop computer for homework and email. Teens can learn digital literacy on a computer planted in your family room, which protects curious young minds from wandering down dangerous rabbit holes that are more alluring on a personal device. Purchase a mobile phone that is not a smartphone. Alternative products such as the Light Phone and Gabb Wireless have talking, texting, camera, GPS capability, and even sport the face-saving look of a sleek iPhone, but without social media. Old-fashioned flip-phones work too, but only if your teen is confident enough to embrace a retro look. One of our older teens voluntarily tried a flip phone for a while and found his peers reacted with a touch of awe and even envy that he could survive and even thrive.
The toughest part of the just-say-no approach is that no one wants their teenager to feel left out. That is hard, but not impossible, to overcome. Parents can conspire with other parents in their kids’ social circle to be united in saying no. The website “Wait Until 8th” has good ideas on how to do this. Parental collusion and solidarity help stiffen moms’ and dads’ spines, and lessen the demand if your child is not the “only one without an iPhone!” Help your kids build an in-person social life by making your house the party house. Invest in a ping-pong table, a fire pit, pizza, even sugary soft drinks. Our family is currently on teenager number four, and they’ve all managed robust social lives without an iPhone.