Today is the day Apple geeks have been waiting for: the release of the latest iPhone. Actually, make that three new iPhones: the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus and the cream of the crop, the iPhone X.
If you care about these things, you’ll be excited about the iPhone X’s new fancy bits: wireless charging, facial recognition, an edge-to-edge display and — drumroll please — no home button. You might not be so excited about the $1,000 price tag. My son, however, is quite excited.
Personally, I’m still trying to figure out how to take more photos on my iPhone SE without getting that annoying “not enough storage” message (just as I have all the kids in the one spot with their eyes open). This particular model was only released by Apple last year, but it looks like a brick compared to my friends’ sleek, sliver-thin iPhone 7s. The fancy features of the new iPhone would be lost on me, and I sure as hell have better things to spend $1,000 on.
My children, however, continue to struggle with the concept of things costing money — as well as the fact that sleek, sliver-thin gadgets cost far too much money. My daughter has just turned 7, so sure, she’s excused. But her big brother turns 10 soon, and he seems to think that with double digits should come major perks, such as his own smartphone. The average age for a kid to get their first cellphone is 10.3 years, so I’m prepared for these pleas. Right now, my son has a used and refurbished iPod Touch, which is fine for playing games and sending me rows of poop emojis when he’s at his dad’s house.
“I think I need a smartphone,” he said recently. “Lots of kids in my class have them.”
“What do you need a smartphone for?” I asked him. “You don’t go anywhere without me or your dad. And you can send me poop emojis from your iPod Touch.”
He shrugged. “Lots of kids in my class have them.”
This is my biggest issue with kids and smartphones. It’s not about wireless charging or facial recognition or the absence of a home button. It’s about a status symbol. It’s about having what everyone else has, regardless of the price tag.
I don’t know what the late Mr. Apple himself, Steve Jobs, would think about my son getting a smartphone at the age of 10, but I do know what his longtime rival Bill Gates thinks. Earlier this year, the Microsoft mogul gave an interview in which he revealed he didn’t let any of his children get their own cellphone until they were 14 years old — even though “they complained other kids got them earlier.” And that’s a basic cellphone he’s talking about, not a smartphone.
As someone who makes a living online, I’m keen for my kids to be exposed to digital tools and have the chance to develop technology skills. At this point, they do this at school as well as at home, where we have an iMac and a Kindle as well as the secondhand iPods. Isn’t that more than enough?
I’m prepared for the impassioned pleas for the latest gadgets as the kids get older and more susceptible to peer pressure. And I’ll admit that, as someone who grew up in the ’80s, it’s hard for me to resist the temptation to wax lyrical about the joys of climbing trees, riding bikes until the sun went down and drawing on actual paper instead of an iPad screen. I must try, though, because we live in a different world now: a world in which kids’ noses are often buried in their smartphones. But that’s not their fault. This is the way things are, and denying it won’t accomplish much.
As with so many aspects of parenting, it all comes down to balance. My kids will, at some stage, want to use — even need to use — their gadgets for more than emojis and Minecraft. Before I know it, they’ll even have university papers or conference calls for their job. It’s highly unlikely my kids will be the only ones in their class to start high school without a smartphone — a quick straw poll of other parents confirms this — but when I do think they’re mature enough to use (and look after) one, I’ll consider it. But it definitely won’t be the iPhone X.