The New Milestone of Adolescence

There’s a six-inch scar on top of my head. It looks like the laces on a football. Based on the recent acceleration of my receding hairline, you should be able to get a good glance over the next few years.

I got the scar on Sunday afternoon, October 30, 1994.

As a newly-licensed driver, with way more confidence than experience, I wanted to see if my ‘84 Accord could hit 100 mph. The speed, combined with an abrupt decision to cross three lanes to get off an exit, caused my car to flip and roll and land facing the opposite way in the middle of I-40. My head collided with the shattered windshield and I ended up on a bodyboard, in an ambulance, speeding to the ER. I spent that Halloween at home, in bed, with a shaved head full of staples holding my head together where the glass had slashed my skull. It could’ve been a great costume if I’d been up for trick-or-treating.

Speeding 100 mph down the highway, the only thing on my sixteen-year-old mind was how happy I was to finally feel the freedom of the open road. To not have to depend on my mom to be my taxi driver anymore. To not have to listen to my dad play the oldies on 93.1FM. It was finally just me, George Strait, and the gas pedal . . . oh, and a totaled Honda with a head full of windshield.

In 1994, the pinnacle of adolescence was the driver’s license. I was beyond eager to reach that milestone, but I wasn’t quite ready to handle the massive responsibility of steering a 3,000 lb. hunk of metal and glass.

In 2020, there’s a new milestone that tops the Christmas lists of most adolescents. It’s a half-pound piece of metal and glass that’s likely to end up with a screen looking much like my 16-year-old shattered windshield. And the crazy truth is this: that half-pound smartphone is more powerful than any car.

The new milestone

How do you know when your child is ready to handle that much responsibility?

Could the consequences of that decision be even greater than an ambulance ride?

Determining when your child gets a smartphone will be one of the most complicated yet critical decisions you’ll ever make. While there is no “magical appropriate age,” there is a clear one-word answer for how to wisely navigate the tensions of this touchy topic.

GRADUALLY.

Much like driving, learning to use a phone is a weighty responsibility that also needs to be implemented by an intentional and gradual training process.

Phase 1: You watch me do it.

Believe it or not, this is the most important phase in the whole process. As parents, the way we model healthy phone behavior will be the single most influential factor in how our kids interact with their phones. It’s difficult for a parent to tell a sixteen year-old not to speed when they themselves have a glovebox full of tickets. 

Phase 2: You do it with me.

In this stage, kids are not given a phone to own, but one to share with a parent. Think of it like a driver’s permit and you’re still sitting in the passenger seat, able to grab that wheel in case of emergency. This stage opens the door to having deeper, often difficult, conversations with your kids about the “whys” behind the guidelines you’ve set. In Phase 2 you begin to allow your child to use certain apps and features on the phone, but not all of them. It’s a gradual process that runs on different timetables for different kids because God has wired us all differently. 

Phase 3: I watch you do it.

I admit it, it’s going to be a scary day five years from now when our oldest daughter gets her driver’s license. Handing her those car keys may be the greatest act of faith that I’ll ever put in the Lord. But that’s parenting. It’s preparing kids to become adults. And one day we’ll do it with a phone as well. But thankfully, she’ll still be under our roof when both of those things happen. And we’ll be there to encourage her on the good days and to pick her up when she falls. As parents, we get the privilege of watching our kids mature with the same delight that the Father watches us.

Phase 4: You do it.

And then, there’s the letting go. The ultimate trusting of the Father. We prepare them well and send them out with a blessing. Even in this stage, continue having honest conversations with your older teen about the potential pitfalls of phone misuse and let them hear others’ stories of failure and redemption regarding technology. As they grow and become independent young adults, this area is just one of many ways in which you will begin to surrender oversight and further entrust them to the Lord’s care. You can be reassured that the same loving Father who has touched your life with his grace will do the same for them.


When to Get My Kid a Phone

WHEN TO GET MY KID A PHONE: NAVIGATING THE TENSIONS

Determining when to get your child a smartphone is a complicated yet critical decision. Parents today are facing new challenges as technology and our children’s access to it gives rise to new worries and concerns. When is the right time to give your child access to such powerful tools?

About the author

Drew Hill

Drew Hill (MDiv, Denver Seminary) is an award-winning author, speaker, and pastor in Greensboro, NC. Drew has been in youth ministry for over two decades and regularly speaks around the country to thousands of parents, youth workers, and teenagers. He is married to Natalie and they have three children: Honey, Hutch, and Macy Heart. He is the author of Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel and the minibook When to Get My Kid a Phone. You can visit his website at AlongsideTeenagers.com.

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Drew Hill

Drew Hill (MDiv, Denver Seminary) is an award-winning author, speaker, and pastor in Greensboro, NC. Drew has been in youth ministry for over two decades and regularly speaks around the country to thousands of parents, youth workers, and teenagers. He is married to Natalie and they have three children: Honey, Hutch, and Macy Heart. He is the author of Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel and the minibook When to Get My Kid a Phone. You can visit his website at AlongsideTeenagers.com.

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