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Dare to be different

Ten reasons why parents should offer the gift of a smartphone-free childhood


Dare to be different

I will not buy a smartphone for my children because …

1. The assorted evils in all of world history await them in seconds.

Every wicked thought of man is waiting to be uncovered by a child on a smartphone in isolation. The perversion of every goodness lies twisted for youthful minds like a lion in blood-thirsty stalk. In the history of mankind, this is unprecedented, immediate access to both good and evil.

This tragic exposure can be innocent and accidental. The unfiltered access also preys on the natural curiosity of the human mind. Both of these instances are to be carefully shepherded by a parent. Indeed, is this not the entire job of a parent? Parenting is the act of deliberate censorship, teaching, shielding, and nurturing until the proper age when all is revealed. There are ideas and images that children are not ready for. This has always been so.

Talk about filters and parental controls is naïve and mealy mouthed. Would you give your child a rattlesnake and say watch out for the fanged end? The best filter is not putting it in their hand.

The abdication of parenting to the marketing-driven, impersonal, amoral vacuity of a Google search engine should terrify every parent in the world.

2. A smartphone screen provides 100 percent of the creativity needed for an entirely passive entertainment experience.

This is in contrast to a book where the mind is providing the images, color, and the gaps that are filled between printed words. Imagination and creativity are stifled through the smartphone screen by continually putting the user in the seat of the consumer. There is no free-flowing exchange of thought that expands the experience. Instead of getting smarter and more able during the experience, one becomes dumber and duller.

When fastened to a screen, the viewer loses engagement with the real world. Screens are only representations, at best, of the real world. When this happens, the user loses contact with the world around them, exchanging it for a fake reality. Strangely, this experience of losing oneself in a screen is addictive to humans. Countless studies have proven this to be true, but more so, it can be observed one example at a time.

Instead of addiction to the mere amusement of a flashing screen, I want my child to become addicted to their own creativity. There is no screen click that compares to bringing your own poem, story, musical piece, or visual art into the world. Personal creativity is a wonderful lifelong addiction that must be fostered in youth.

Instead of addiction to the mere amusement of a flashing screen, I want my child to become addicted to their own creativity.

In this same line, screens are debilitating in that they never allow a child to be bored. There is always one more click to lead to another click. The lie of all video games is that there is a “life” limit. Boredom is the great spur of creativity. I must have the courage to let my child sit in boredom … knowing the powerful weapon of their brain is many times activated by this very experience.

What does a screen have to compare with a sunset, a conversational meal with a grandparent, growing your own tomatoes, or a good night’s sleep? I don’t want them to miss the good stuff. I want them to wonder at the beauty of the created world that surrounds them each day.

3. My goal for my kids is independence, not dependence.

By tethering them to me for every event, camp, and after-school event I suffocate their need to develop planning skills and the ability to face the consequences of their actions. Would I sacrifice this crucial developmental point on the altar of my convenience? Or worse yet, play into my own helicoptering need to be involved and direct every second of their lives?

After all, didn’t every adult prior to 2007 endure childhood without one? Six thousand years of recorded human history tells us that a screen- and phone-free childhood is possible.

I am not my children’s Uber driver or entertainment coordinator. I am not at their beck and call. I want them to learn to plan ahead, accept consequences, and figure it out when things go wrong.

4. The medium is manipulative—its primary purpose is to get you to want things you shouldn’t want and buy things you don’t need.

Moving images on screens are inherently deceptive. Their sole purpose is to rev up your lust and envy and greed so you will make a purchase. People in the advertising business spend years learning how to manipulate children. The claim that Google, Facebook, and Instagram are free is an outrageous mythical illusion. Nothing on the vast medium is free. Every click and viewed second is tracked and monetized.

We as parents don’t teach our children media self-defense or even realize that they need it. But that’s what parents must now do. I must realize that I am susceptible to this attraction as well and I must be a role-model to them: I am not obsessed with keeping up with trivial marketers’ expectations of me on a smartphone, and that I have the guts to raise them to be the only one that resists.

We as parents don’t teach our children media self-defense or even realize that they need it.

What would our world be if no one in history had raised their kids with steel backbones to buck popular opinion and practice?

5. I want my kids to go into adulthood with bombproof bull detectors.

A childhood full of carefully crafted lies in photoshopped images and adspeak renders them helpless to what is real and truly needful in life. Most of the residual online marketing is sexualized to preposterous degrees. If they are raised on what is false, how will they know what is real?

There is a huge difference in the generalized casual sarcasm of teenagers and a cultivated instinct concerning con men reaching for your wallet. They must know what is authentic and what is counterfeit. Any bank teller will tell you that. I want them to grow up knowing what real people look like, how they act, and how they sound.

6. The entire premise of social media is a lie.

Especially for children, the intoxicating effect of being “liked” is more than they can handle in formative years. Even if this were not true, what would be the real benefit?

The symbiotic gain of even one true friendship is a buoyancy that easily outweighs a thousand clicks on a lip-pouting selfie from Disney World. I want my kids to do things, not simply classify themselves by what others like.

Social media thrives on a narcissistic vanity that has been condemned by every culture throughout human history. Selfie culture has led to a 24/7 comparison game with others. And the tables are tilted toward only the “best” possible images. This has been proven in numerous studies to lead to depression, suicide, and a range of other social dysfunctions.

Social media thrives on a narcissistic vanity that has been condemned by every culture throughout human history.

I want my kids to value a conversation with the old lady across the street more than a thousand likes of their recent concert attendance or preference of Star Wars over Harry Potter.

7. Anonymity is a killer of human beings.

The anonymous nature of screen interaction promotes secrecy and kills real community. If this is painfully true for adults, then how much more so is it for children?

Connections and relationships birthed and nurtured online can never be trusted entirely, especially for children still learning the complexities of relationships with their own family members. I want to know their friends and their acquaintances. These are the people they will become. It matters who they are talking to, who they are being shaped by.

8. Technology must be defined as something that makes my life better.

Every step toward new methods and mediums must be weighed with this in mind. Technology did not arrive with the iPhone. The printing press, penicillin, and the Hubble telescope were all steps forward that all people embrace. Does Snapchat, Twitter, and non-stop sexualized advertising make my life better? Does the ability to binge watch vulgar and violent TV shows 24/7 in privacy make my life better? Does spending an entire Saturday playing Fortnite with strangers make my life better?

Screens are a recent experiment in human culture. They have existed for a very short time, approximately 100 years. Every year since their creation their availability and usage has increased exponentially. Like asbestos and lead paint, any technology with such a growth curve must be viewed with caution and thoughtfulness.

Like asbestos and lead paint, any technology with such a growth curve must be viewed with caution and thoughtfulness.

To quote from Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were in such a hurry to figure out if they could, they never stopped to ask if they should.”

9. My child has no income and therefore cannot pay for an expensive electronic device and the significant monthly fees attached to its use.

Why is no one talking about this? Nothing without labor …

The argument against smartphones, financially, has a wicked twist to it. This is not some nefarious cancer or villain attacking from without. People are paying through the nose for it. What was a luxury item a few short years ago, parents have been coached to believe is an entitlement for every child.

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?” the Hebrew prophet Isaiah asked.

10. You only get to be a kid once.

One way or another, my child will need to use a smartphone when they are older. I have a smartphone and feel it is necessary for business. President Abraham Lincoln ran the Civil War with the 19th century version of text messaging. Every lasting civilization has word processed in some way. Actual, necessary communication is not a new invention.

When my children are older, they will have the choice to mindlessly read fake news updates, scroll food photos, or zap zombies by the thousands. They will have the choice to view the entirely false representation of sexuality through millions of porn videos, write vicious remarks under assumed avatars, and run up their credit cards on things they do not need like the “new” iPhone every year. Those are coming battles they will have to face alone.

But they will have safely packed away the greatest gift a parent can give their child in the 21st century: a screen-free childhood.

Be the only one.

S.J. Dahlstrom S.J. lives and writes in West Texas with his wife and children. His The Adventures of Wilder Good young-adult book series has won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion twice. The most recent release in the series is Silverbelly.


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