This conversation will benefit all of us, in all seasons of life* but especially parents with teenagers. Navigating your teenager’s relationship (or potential relationship) with a smartphone is no joke— here are some guiding thoughts that have shaped the way we view and use tech in our home.

*Many families are using screens for school during COVID-19— we totally get that! We feel that the following article is more relevant now than ever; we must think critically about the effects of compulsory tech use and be wise in how we choose to spend our leisure time.

Analog as long as possible

In our home we’ve adopted a general rule of thumb from Andy Crouch: we try to keep our children off personal screens until they hit double digits. Until ten, completing a task in its analog form will always offer more benefits than completing that same task on a screen. 

For example—one educator tried to tell me that kindergartners would be learning the alphabet via word processing software as they typed each letter and then located a clip art picture to pair with it. Wouldn’t that kindergartner engage MORE skills if he were required to write out the letter by hand, flip through a physical magazine or book to locate a matching picture, and finally, use scissors and glue to paste it neatly? 

Tech is designed to be easy to use—there’s a reason our 18-month-old can already figure out her papa’s smart watch. It’s made to be intuitive. Your child will not be behind if he or she doesn’t get on a computer until ten. 

Your child will not be behind if he or she doesn't get on a computer until ten.

Your teen doesn’t need a smartphone

After ten, I’d still recommend keeping smartphones at bay for as long as possible. And here are two big reasons why:

Smartphones don’t benefit our children.

You’ll find some articles that talk about it “opening their worldview,” but unfiltered worldview-opening is probably not the best option for anyone. It’s not even a good idea for adults. In fact, a major part of adulthood is knowing when and how to filter what we ingest from the world. Some topics are so sad, scary, inappropriate, false, or otherwise needing critical attention that they simply aren’t beneficial for younger minds. 

Everything a child needs to do can be accomplished with a dumb phone and a family computer.

Schools that demand online work should provide a device with which to do that work (even if it’s through the school library). Phone calls and messages can be accomplished from dumb phones. Social media and gaming should be accomplished from public devices that are easier to walk away from, such as a family computer or gaming device in a public space.

Billions of dollars spent for your attention

Why can’t you (or your kid or your spouse) put your phone down?

Our smartphones (and the apps and games that are on them) are not what they used to be. When Facebook came out in 2004, it was novel. It presented a way for college students to engage with each other instead of scrolling through the campus white pages. It didn’t seem like something that would change the discourse of human interaction. Even when the iPhone launched in 2007, Steve Jobs presented it as a device that would sync your iPod and your phone so you didn’t have to carry two devices. “The killer app is making calls,“ Jobs said (Digital Minimalism).

“People don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy... billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable.” 

— Cal Newport

A decade and some change later, the average user checks his or her phone 85 times a day.  As Cal Newport says in his book Digital Minimalism, “People don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy, but instead because billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable.”

So how can we fight to regain our time and attention? The reality is, we need to be intentional to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:20) and teach our children to do the same. We also need to be wise and proactive to implement useful strategies (like making your smartphone dumber) in this war to commoditize our attention.


When we talk about keeping tech in its proper place, we must remember that we cannot be passive in this. If we’re not intentional and mindful with what tech we allow, when and where we allow it, and what we’re consuming—  it will quickly rule over us. Because that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. 

Stay fierce, parents, in your fight for the highest good for your children. May we all— parents, families, individuals— love God and use tech.

Check out our next post, “4 Steps to Turn Your Smart Phone into a Dumb Phone,” for more practical help in fighting for freedom and joy in a tech world.