My 13-year-old son has a basic phone just for calls. He likes being the only one with a retro phone.

Teenage boy holding Nokia phone
The author's 13-year-old has a basic Nokia phoneCourtesy of the author
  • My son has been walking to school with friends since he was 9.

  • My husband and I decided to delay giving him a phone, and he got one just last year.

  • We gave him a dumb phone that can only call and text.

My 13-year-old son has been walking to school with friends since he was 9 years old. Many of his peers have had their own mobile phones since then, but my husband and I decided to delay getting our son his own phone until last year when he moved from primary to secondary school.

When we finally did buy him a phone, we spent around $20 on a basic Nokia — not dissimilar from the very first cellphone I had back in 2000. The rest of his friends have smartphones.

I realized how addictive smartphones can be as a new mom

I got my first smartphone around 2013, right after the birth of my second son. Even then, I was late to the game — many of my friends already had iPhones and would jokingly bemoan their "addiction" to them. When I finally joined the smartphone club, I immediately signed up for Instagram — which I'm pretty sure is a requirement for young moms. It wasn't long before I started to understand that the "addiction" my friends had talked about may not have been an exaggeration.


At home with two young kids, I often felt isolated, and my phone helped me feel connected to the outside world. But the line between enjoyment and dependence is very fine, and I spent a couple of years feeling truly addicted to the dopamine rush of social media messages and texts. Breaking that dependence was difficult, and even now — years later — there are times I notice myself picking up my phone when I feel sad or angry or any number of uncomfortable feelings I'd rather not feel.

I'm much more aware of the addictiveness of my phone these days, and when I notice myself returning to those old patterns, I'll remove social media apps from my phone and practice leaving my phone in another room as much as possible.

13 is such a tricky age

I'm a 41-year-old woman who likes to think she's pretty self-aware, and I still notice my susceptibility to phone addiction; I wonder how much more vulnerable a 13-year-old is.

There's research to suggest that people who receive smartphones at an early age are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and aggression toward others. I remember 13 as an incredibly tricky age to navigate in 1995 when I was just discovering dial-up internet in my parents' study. Throwing a smartphone into the mix feels like an unnecessary complication.

Last year, a boy in my son's year at school was suspended for showing younger kids pornography on his phone in the park. I know that we as parents like to assume our own kids would never do that kind of thing, or if they were looking at pornography online, we'd definitely know. But the truth is, people my age didn't have access to so much when we were 13 — and sometimes I think we're a little naive about what a mix of natural curiosity and unfettered access to the internet can mean.

He can only text and call

With his basic phone, my son can still text a friend to meet him at the park, call to tell me he's arrived at school, or text to say he's going to stop at the shop on the way home to buy a candy bar.

We've maintained open communication about using smartphones. I'm honest with him about how I felt addicted to mine, and I even ask him to let me know if he thinks I'm looking at mine too much. Sometimes, if a friend is texting him more than he'd like, he'll turn his phone off and put it in a drawer; he says he doesn't like to feel like people can get in touch with him any time. He also says he kind of likes being the only one with a "retro" Nokia. I think it makes him feel a little different from the crowd, and I'll appreciate that attitude as long as it lasts.

I know there's a huge temptation to do whatever we need to to help our kids fit in, but for now, our son's mental health - and the cost of an iPhone — both seem like too high a price.

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