In 2018 A Blogger Shared The Story Of Two Parents Who Won’t Let Their Teenager Own A Smartphone

Like many young teenagers, Emma believes that a smartphone would vastly improve her life. So she’s frustrated at her parents for not allowing her to have one. But one day, she learns a valuable lesson about how the devices can negatively affect lives.

Love them or hate them, smartphones are an integral part of modern life. Indeed, in 2014 there were an estimated 2.6 billion smartphone users worldwide. However, according to networking company Ericsson, that figure is set to leap to 6.1 billion by 2020. That’s 70 percent of the planet’s population.

Part of the appeal of smartphones is having a range of technologies at hand in one little package. The devices can, of course, make calls and send texts. But they can also take photographs, map journeys and give us instant access to the web.

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Given the array of apps at our fingertips, smartphone usage continues to increase. According to research by U.K. mattresses manufacturer Silentnight, 81 percent of people have their phones switched on 24/7. This even includes when they’re in bed.

Indeed, there are some further concerning statistics uncovered by the study. For example, 40 percent of those quizzed said that they had checked their smartphone during the night, after it had disturbed their sleep. Furthermore, it was suggested that numerous people spend more time on their devices than they do actually getting some sleep.

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The Silentnight study indicated that the average person will spend eight hours and 21 minutes of their day sleeping. This, however, lags slightly behind the time they might spend on their devices, such as phones and laptops. Indeed, the survey suggested that people will spend eight hours and 41 minutes per day on their gadgets.

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Smartphone usage may seem ubiquitous, but the devices are not without their critics. Some people, of course, see the ability to be constantly contacted as a good thing. But many others believe the inability to disconnect from work and social media is a negative.

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And the arguments regarding smartphones intensify when it comes to their usage among children. Some parents argue that smartphones can aid education and help kids out in an emergency. Yet others believe that the technology can be detrimental.

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Opponents put forth the argument that giving a child a smartphone can stem their creativity. And some worry that the technology can affect children’s sleeping patterns. People have also expressed concerns that too much screen-time can hinder the development of parental relationships with kids.

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And those aren’t the only concerns. Some suggest that the addictive nature of devices can have a negative effect for when the kids grow up. Furthermore, some research has suggested that phones can impair a child’s development, affecting their ability to learn.

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Other possible detrimental effects of smartphone exposure on children include behavioral problems and short attention spans. Spending hours on devices might also contribute to childhood obesity. And it could also negatively impact children’s mental health – particularly given the emergence of cyber bullying.

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These possible outcomes are enough to make any parent think hard about giving their child a smartphone. Yet even so, parents often skim over the day-to-day impact of technology in our and our children’s lives. The fact that we are all virtually connected, yet somehow more disconnected in reality, is an idea which has not yet been fully grappled with.

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However, the impact of smartphones on small things in our kids’ lives is a subject that author Benjamin Conlon explores in his story, “Emma: A Teen Untethered.” This is a tale which first appeared on the Wait Until 8th blog in December 2018. And it certainly provides some food for thought.

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The narrative centers around Emma, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who is not allowed a smartphone. She wants her own device “more than anything.” But despite pleas to her parents, she has been flat-out refused to have one.

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Emma’s woes are exacerbated by the fact “everyone else” at school has one. All her friends are using them to chat and help them with homework. Yet the closest she can get is a flip phone that her parents have offered her in case of an emergency.

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We meet Emma one ordinary Saturday. As she awakens from her slumber, she is at one with the world. With no smartphone to attend to, there are no distractions from social media. As such, she shakes herself from her bed and makes her way downstairs to her family.

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When she gets there, Emma is greeted by the sight of her little brother Michael reading a book. In the background, her dad is cooking up some pancakes. But as breakfast is some way off, Emma joins her sibling at the table. And without a phone to entertain her, soon mischief ensues.

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Emma proceeds to torment Michael by distracting him from his book for no reason. Soon enough he protests to their father, but secretly he’s happy with his sister’s attention. He doesn’t get to see Emma so much now, and in five short years she’ll be grown up and able to leave the family home.

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Describing the significance of these communications, Conlon writes, “These interactions are important to Michael. Often, they are the products of Emma’s boredom. Often, they are very brief and insignificant. Over time though, they add up to a lot.”

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Following her pancakes, Emma decides to do some homework. Unfortunately though, she’s left her assignment book at school. If she had a smartphone she could have taken a picture of her work like all the other kids. So she takes her frustration downstairs to her mom.

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While her mom has some sympathy for her, she is more interested in helping Emma find a solution. She suggests that her daughter calls a friend. But the teenager bemoans the inconvenience, reminding her mother that things could have been different if she owned a phone.

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However, Emma is unable to see the minor annoyance as an opportunity to learn. “On Monday, Emma might forget the notebook again. Or, she might not,” Conlon explains. “Maybe, because of the inconvenience, her memory will sharpen, and she’ll be just a little more prepared than she was on Friday.”

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Eventually, Emma gives in and agrees to call one of her classmates. She’s not used to speaking on the phone, and as a result she’s nervous. But with a deep breath the teenager plucks up the courage to phone. And she ends up having a brief, but pleasant, exchange with her friend’s father.

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Despite her reluctance to make it, the phone call has a positive effect on Emma. “The next time there’s a phone call to make, she won’t be quite so nervous,” Conlon writes. “If she’s with her friends and someone needs to call and order food, or flowers, or a limo for prom, maybe Emma will be the one brave enough to do it. She’ll learn from those calls too.”

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Now that she has her assignment, Emma gets to work. It’s pre-algebra math and it doesn’t take long before the teen gets stuck on an equation. Once again her frustration at not owning a smartphone rears its head. She knows her friends use apps to help them with math, but she can only ask her mom for help.

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But given that Emma’s mom hasn’t practiced pre-algebra in a long time, she isn’t much help. And so the teen wonders why she’s struggling through her math homework when, like her mother, she won’t even remember it in years to come. And while Emma has a point, she’s missing the real value of her homework.

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“Emma’s mother can’t remember the pre-algebra, but she can remember sitting down and struggling through it every night,” Conlon explains. “Every time she worked through something difficult, she got a little stronger.” So with that in mind, she encourages Emma to keep going.

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At a loss, Emma tries to look the answer up on the family computer. However, her dad is using the machine for a work project. As a result, the teen returns to the kitchen where, with a lot of hard work, she finally solves the problem.

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With her math completed, Emma turns her attention to her Spanish homework. She struggles through the assignment, armed with nothing but a dictionary. And she can’t help but think of all the kids with phones who use the Google Translate app to assist them.

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However, Emma battles on regardless. Eventually she completes the work and gains newfound fortitude as a result. Not that she knows it herself yet. So she hops off to soccer practice, completely unaware of her recently acquired strength of mind.

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In the slow traffic on the way to practice, Emma feels bored. But with no phone to distract her she occupies herself by looking out the window and talking to her mom and brother about what she sees. When they finally get to the field, her mom explains that their dad will pick them up.

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Following their separate practices, Emma and Michael reunite outside the restrooms. They go inside to clean up, but when they emerge everyone has already left the field. And to make matter worse, their dad is nowhere to be seen.

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Remembering the project her dad was busying himself with earlier, Emma realizes he’s probably been working so hard that he’s forgotten to collect them. If she had a smartphone, she could have just called to remind him. But instead, she has to hatch a different plan.

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Being three years older than Michael, Emma decides to take the lead. She recalls seeing a bank on the way to practice. So she leads her brother safely across a road, towards the building. When they get to the bank, they discover it’s closed. But Emma uses her problem-solving skills to find a solution.

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Looking around her, Emma spots a police officer stood along the street. She decides to approach the cop and politely ask him if they can use his phone. The officer agrees and soon she is speaking to her dad, who is mortified to realize his error.

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Emma’s dad asks her to hand the phone back to the police officer, thanking the man for helping his children. He explains how time had run away from him and apologizes for his actions. Luckily, the cop is understanding and insists he’ll bring Emma and Michael home, as his shift is nearly over.

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In the police car on the way home, the cop treats Emma and Michael to one blare of the siren. And over the journey they get to know the policeman a little bit. Perhaps he’ll be able to help them at some point in the future, if they’re ever in need.

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From their adventure, Emma and Michael have also created a memory. The story of how their father almost forgot them will likely be recounted for years to come. But if Emma had owned a smartphone, the tale would have been much duller and soon forgotten by those involved.

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As Emma goes to bed that night, every little obstacle that she had overcome that day has helped to change her. The challenges she faced may have seemed minor, but in solving them she learnt resilience, patience, confidence and self-reliance. All characteristics that can’t be won by the simple scrolling of a smartphone.

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So while Emma and other teenagers might feel hard done by, their lack of a phone could actually be a positive. Concluding his thought-provoking story, Conlon thinks forward to Emma’s college application. “She’ll be asked what it is that separates her from other applicants? What makes her more likely to succeed?” he ponders. “She’ll write this: ‘I grew up without a smartphone.’”

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