Why I Don’t Own a Smartphone


Three unrelated parents, each on a smartphone at the zoo playground (the lady wearing stripes in the background had two toddlers running around!)

Recently, I’ve found myself getting a few funny looks. It’s my phone. My regular old cell phone with no gadgets, bells, or whistles. I think it takes pictures, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never taken one. I use it for… phone calls (gasp!). And that’s it.

Andrew has chosen to forgo a smartphone as well. It’s not that we can’t fit it into the budget or aren’t tech-saavy (well, I’m not, but Andrew is pretty up-to-speed with the gadgets and gizmos kids are using these days…). No, it is a conscious choice that we have made so far.

I cannot count how many ridiculous incidents I have witnessed with parents who are supposed to be watching their kids in public but are instead on smartphones checking up on who-knows-what. And then we read this article in the Wall Street Journal pretty recently. Most of the incidents I have witnessed are harmless enough, but what I find most troubling is when a child is repeatedly trying to get his/her parent’s attention and the parent simply cannot be bothered to look up from a screen long enough to connect.

I’m not saying I am the world’s most attentive parent. On the contrary. I have three little boys to check up on; the youngest of whom is always getting into some sort of mischief. I give them a lot of independence. I’m sure there are plenty of parents who are uncomfortable with the amount of space I give my kids at the playground. But. I do not need the temptation of a smartphone during these times. When it comes down to it, I know myself too well to believe that I would refrain from just “checking in” on all the various social media sites that I find interesting while at the playground.  So no, I’m not on Instagram, or Twitter, or whatever else you can do with smartphones. Eventually, I will join the rest and update to a smartphone.

But for now, I’m happy with my old flip phone. Albeit slightly embarrassed.

For those of you who do own smartphones, how do you manage to keep from checking it every 5 minutes? Do you give yourselves rules about the frequency of usage? Do you find it tempting to whip it out at the playground? Okay. That sounded awfully dirty. But seriously. How has a smartphone changed your parenting?

27 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Own a Smartphone”
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  1. I, too, have a disdain for smart phones. I think they are really cool and I think they would be useful for many things. Like when we were hit by Hurricane Sandy, and it felt like everyone just assumed I’d be able to check my e-mail or the internet even though I had no electricity. Frustrating for those of us dependent on Wi-Fi.

    However, I think it is appalling how “real life” is missed because the smart phone is always out. It really kills me at sporting events for my 3rd grader. So many parents just sit on the sidelines and don’t even pretend to watch their kid. I also am disappointed, because I thought that sports would be a great way to meet other parents…but they never look up from their phones, so I’m stuck sitting on the bleachers…the only parent not texting or surfing the web.

    I’ll get one someday. Probably soon, when Jeff and I need to have a calendar we can both access remotely because of kids’ activities. But I will strive to continue to watch my life rather than those of faceless people on the internet. And I will strive to connect to those around me…and not spend dinners out texting other people.

    Okay, you’ve hit a nerve, apparently. It is well established that I am an old woman living in a 35 year old body, though. I also like puzzles and bird-watching. My kids are going to be sooooo embarrassed by me soon. 🙂

  2. First, I want to let you know how very much I enjoy reading your blog. I feel so special to be a part of your family’s adventures! I have a 4.5 year old daughter and a 13 month old son, both with boundless energy and an addiction to mischief. Oh the sass and the climbing! Also, thank you for your honesty in the tough times. I work full time and my husband is teaching/working on a PhD, so we are often handing off parenting duties and it gets rough sometimes. And sleeping through the night? Ha! Doesn’t happen around here either. 🙂
    My thoughts about the smart phone debate are a little different. My work schedule is really unique from that of my collegues, so that my husband can work on some weekdays. However, that means I am expected to keep up on the messages I receive when I’m not in the office. I couldn’t have the schedule I do (home Tuesday and Thursday afternoons), without my smartphone. You know I am checking and responding to messages at the playground, because my kids certainly don’t want to be cooped up in the house all afternoon! However, I do try to limit checking in to once each hour. There are times I’ll be trying to wrap up an email response, and my daughter will ask something and that little voice in my head will yell “put that thing down!” — most of the time, I listen. 🙂 So, I do have sympathy for parents who are addicted. But, I also hope they are listening to their little voice and giving their awesome kids the attention they deserve.

  3. I really want a smartphone. Mostly for the ease of being able to look up items at the grocery store to find out if they’re gluten-free, or having something to help me get un-lost when I don’t know where I’m going. But otherwise, I think they’re a huge time suck.

    It makes me so sad to see parents at the park ignoring their children. Every time I go with my kids, I see parents stitting on the benches, completely disconnected from what their kids are doing. I don’t like to be very judgey when it comes to parenting choices, but I will go ahead and put on my judgey pants for this one because I think it’s negligent. Children could get seriously hurt or wander off while their parents are facebooking, and it’s also a really sad thing to see kids be ignored when they so want attention from their parents.

    While I am wearing my judgey pants and ranting, I also have great disdain for people who check their phones during meals or when they’re spending time with another person. It’s rude and tells the person you’re with that they’re not as important as whatever else you have going on. And I see it everywhere. At breakfast out recently, I saw a family whereboth parents were looking at their phones and the kids were just sitting by themselves, eating. What the crap, man?

  4. I have a smartphone and two boys age 3 years and 5 months. There is a time and place for everything if you ask me. I completely understand the moms who have to be available via smart phone due to their jobs, it’s just what has to happen, however I am not one of them and I make sure to leave my phone in my pocket. Life is just too short and our kiddos grow up way too fast. I give them space at the playground but keep an eye on them while enjoying the moment 🙂

    PS Love your blog and you have great style!

  5. I saw this pop up on my facebook feed and had to stop by and read your post. I own a smartphone and while I’m able to refrain from checking it, Nirvaan has now discovered that it can play songs and has unlimited pictures of horses and cows. Managing his emotions every time I whip the phone out (even just to make a call or send a text message) is the most challenging part of owning a smartphone. So if I do look at it (it’s always in the bathroom, or while I’m pretending to search for something in a drawer). That certainly helps me not obsess over social media and email. For me, I found it reduced a lot of anxiety- I know that I’m not missing important emails from students and can actually be more in the present, instead of worrying about who is emailing me and the time sensitivity of the email. I have all kinds of rules for myself, I don’t have any notifications telling me when I have emails or facebook messages, I don’t let myself hold it in my hand or put it in my pocket (it’s always lost somewhere in my huge bag) and most of all, I try to be really mindful of the time I am with Nirvaan. Just telling myself to be in the moment and enjoy him makes me less interested in my phone.

  6. Ah, the smart phone dilemma. Well, I have to say, I do have a smart phone and I do love it, although not as much as it seems the people in your picture do. Frank and I are both extremely conscious of how and when we are using our iPhones, especially around Jackson. I love the capabilities especially the calendar (we can sync to each other’s which is crucial for us due to our opposite schedules) and of course it’s fun to have FB and pinterest at your fingertips (especially on my lunch break at work when I just need a little distraction from the demands of middle and high school) but never with our child present unless it is necessary. I have to say that I am a horrible texter and always putting off replying to the text until I am usually alone in the bathroom where I can think for a minute…ha ha. Other pros of the iPhone? My favorite apps are: Google Maps (navigation…my Tom Tom bit the dust recently so this has saved me and is so much more convenient), Shopping List (suri makes the grocery store so much easier for this busy mom) and the education kids games that have saved my a$$ at the fertility doctor’s office when I have to bring my three year old along and he can’t touch ANYTHING and his little grabby-hand want EVERYTHING! While, I do love my phone and I have become accustomed to it’s ease, it does and will never replace or interfere with the relationship I have with my child. It makes me so sad to see parents not being present for so many reasons, but when a piece of technology takes precedence I think that is a big problem! This link is apropos


  7. This is so great! I love hearing all the rules you give yourselves about smartphone usage! I think it will help me when the time comes… they sure do sound useful, I just don’t trust myself to resist the addiction!

  8. I try to give people some slack when they’re on their phones around their kids. You never really know why they’re on the phone- family issues, trying to close on a house, giving a grocery list five seconds before their husband leaves work. I’ve definitely needed to be on the phone for all those reasons while out with Gus before and I’m sure to someone outside of the situation I looked like I wasn’t engaged with my kid. That being said.. I’m always right next to him, sliding down the slide and climbing on the play structures…so maybe I don’t look negligent? I don’t know.

    As far as how I manage my smartphone use I try to not know where my phone is at all times, if that makes sense, and I keep it on silent, too, so I don’t hear all the notifications going off. I regularly leave it at home or in the car. It’s so easy to check in that I put a few things in place to make sure it doesn’t become a habit. It’s really important to me that Gus doesn’t grow up with an image of me always on the phone. I think it’s all about being conscious of your usage and how addictive it really can be. If you know you don’t want to use it all the time, you won’t. If you don’t really see it as a problem you’ll probably be using it a lot, you know? As with all things parenting it’s a personal choice.

  9. I love my smartphone. It’s changed my life for the better in so many ways. I’d marry it, but then I’d be fulfilling the prophecy about liberal Californians who vote for same-sex marriages wanting to gay-marry their furniture. Plus also I’m already married.

    I do have rules about it, though and one of the first things my husband and I worked out was when we can have phone time when we’re together and when we’re just going to put them away.

    PS. I just found you, and I think I love you.

  10. I do love my iphone. I resisted a long time when I was working in an office, everyone was always annoyed that I couldn’t check in on email while on site but I maintained that the last thing I wanted was more email in the few hours I was away from my computer each day. Back then I was very anti-social media as well, no facebook (which I still don’t have), no texting… this was all pre-blogging too obviously.

    Once I had Wyatt suddenly I was never in front of the computer during the day and I ended up only checking my email once a week. I did feel more disconnected from friends and family and about 6 months in decided to get an iphone. It was love at first sight!

    I don’t check my email or text in the park but I do sometimes talk to my mother using headphones so my hands are free… which I am sure people shake their heads at. Interestingly though, there are several grandmother’s at our park always who knit while they are there. They are also looking down and not 100 percent focused on the kids but I feel like they get a pass because it isn’t newfangled technology. I guess I just think that sometimes as caregivers we are bound to get bored watching our kid in the sandbox yet again with a truck for 20 minutes and as long as they are safe we probably can check out just a little. Getting sucked into a big email is a definite no, and of course it is more tough with the temptation at your fingertips.

    I’ll be interested to see what you think if you get one! I was so against it and I’m a total convert.

  11. No smart phone here. My flip phone died when I jumped in a pool with all my clothes on (and cell phone in my pocket) to resuce Ava. The guy at the phone store talked me into a phone with a QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen, because it was “cooler” than the old flip phone. I didn’t really care, I just wanted a free replacement phone. I finally caved and got a text messaging plan two months ago, but I still have no intention of getting a data plan or smart phone.

  12. First of all I love this article. I do have a smartphone with no kids. Whenever I’m in a social setting I always make sure to put my phone on silence and to leave it in my purse. I have this argument with my sister all the time, she is living thru her phone. People cannot carry conversations anymore, it’s so annoying to be next to someone that checks their phone every 5 minutes. I can only imagine how bad it is to have this behavior with kids around. I know that kids will have incidents regardless but it doesn’t help to be glued to a phone.

  13. You’re a smart lady because they definitely are addictive. Prior to getting my iphone I was using a flip phone that was held together be a rubber band as one of the hinges was broken. The smartphone is a definite upgrade, but comes with so many temptations. I don’t even have many distractions (apps) on mine, it’s more limited to a dictionary.com app, a bloglovin app, a balance app to keep track of my expenses, a countdown app to show me how many days are left until certain events (am I sounding like a dork yet?), but it still tempts me constantly and I definitely check it more often than I should. I do have rules of my own like keeping it on silent when I’m out and about unless I’m expecting an important call or message, no alerts telling me when emails or updates are coming in, definitely no pulling it out when sitting in the company of friends (when my own friends spend time on theirs while we’re together it makes me feel very unimportant so I try my best to keep it tucked away in a bag and to check it when I leave if I need to. I think you can definitely find a balance and not let it take up more of your life than you’d like, but I have found it’s something I do have to be very mindful of. Thanks to this post I am going to try to reinstate some of my own rules and create a few new ones. Now that Izzy is here I think it’s more important than ever to not be looking at it all the time. We put our tv downstairs in anticipation of limiting her own screen time for goodness sakes, the least I could do is limit my own. 🙂

  14. When I got a phone with a full keyboard on it for texting I really thought I had reached the ultimate level. But now, two smartphones later, I can’t imagine life without it. I also love my smartphone but I can confidently say I’m not addicted to it. When I first got one however all I wanted to do was play on it but in a week’s time the novelty had worn off. And I absolutely LOVE using Instagram. I really really do. It’s such a cool way to connect with people. I love catching up on blog reading while waiting for doctor appointments and also using it for micro entertainment for the boys every once in a while.

    But I will say this; it takes a conscious effort to make sure I’m not using it as an escape route from the humdrum moments of my life as a stay at home mom. Just like anything else it’s good to have a reality check about how much I’m using it on any given day and if it feels like too much I just decide not to.


  15. I have to say, I love my iPhone and I think Steve Jobs was a genius. It is ironic you posted this today, because just this morning I was telling someone how my iPhone helped me stay sane through the first couple months of Ben’s life. His infancy was so challenging, and my phone made helped me feel less isolated. While I may have been rocking a baby for 16 hours a day (or more), I could have my phone in hand and read articles, blogs, Facebook, etc. and stay in contact with people. It definitely helped between the hours of 3-6 AM. I rely on it for directions/maps, recipes at the grocery store and Jack even watches the occasional show on PBS kids when we are out running errands for too long and he is about to lose his mind. You are so present for your kids; I’m sure you wouldn’t have a hard time managing your use.

  16. I’m a new reader of your blog and I love it but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to comment.

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve been feeling like such a luddite and a Debbie Downer and so alone in my utter disdain for smart phones. I really, sincerely think they are a technology that actually decreases our quality of life. Whether it be by never being fully able to disconnect from work or by robbing people of precious moments; looking out the window on your morning commute, spending time with others, even moments of downtime, of “boredom”, where previously you would just have to sit and think. I really think people need those moments,where you can just be quiet and rest. Of course, I do think children suffer the most for the reasons you’ve already outlined here.

    Another observation is that smart phone owners are not at all aware of their own patterns of usage. They underestimate just how quickly they’ll reach for their phones and just how out of touch they are when they’re on them. I often feel that being smart phone-less is much like being that one sober person at a party. You’re companions may be having fun but you’re the only one who can clearly see how ridiculous it all is.

  17. I love my smartphone, and as a result I definitely understand the need to temper one’s use of them. My rule is that if I am 1:1 with Rho, I do not check my phone unless it is something urgent (like I need to make a phone call right away and have to look up the number) or someone calls/texts me. If it’s a text I can ignore until his nap, I do. But, he doesn’t play by himself well (and I don’t push it), so if I am with him, I am engaged (and I only have him so that makes that possible). If I am with Rho but not alone and he is paying attention to someone else, I might check in on my email/Facebook/Twitter. I also read Kindle on my phone and check email/Facebook/Twitter when he is nursing. I try to split nursing time between still being engaged with him (reading a book, telling a story, commenting on the YouTube video he is so often watching on the iPad while nursing – his favorite activity… how is that for technological??) and taking a break to check my phone/stare off into space. (Mostly) the only time I use a phone when I am with him 1:1 is when I take a picture of him. So… in sum, I think it really does take a conscious effort not to check every 5 minutes… believe me, I teach college students! 🙂

  18. I don’t think I will ever have a smart phone. I understand that for many, a smart phone is an important part of their work. I also know that many people police themselves well on it.
    But here is my thing: I don’t want to live that lifestyle and I don’t want to set that example for my kids. The example that says every single moment in my life must be full of multitasking and accomplishing ‘something’ via technology. The example that says one must be fully plugged in, because it is better to miss something in your immediate surroundings as long as you don’t miss anything on the internet.
    Instead, I want my kids to learn to be fully present at whatever they are doing instead of dividing their time between people and electronics. I want my kids to have the opportunities to do nothing and just be, to take the time to be able to hear their inner voice rather than be constantly catching up on everyone else’s latest news.
    And the best way I can teach them that is by example, by unplugging myself.

  19. Lauren! I’m holding out too! I have old flip phone, which I refer to as my “caveman phone,” and I still love it. Plus, I could never leave T9 behind, ha ha ha. I like other technology stuff but I’m a total Luddite when it comes to smartphones, and it’s for almost the same reason you stated. I don’t have kids, but I have friends, and I want to give them my undivided attention. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m almost always hurt when I’m chatting with a friend and she’s looking at [God knows what] on a smartphone. Friends need to connect too! flipphonexcore forever!!!!!

  20. Thanks for stopping by my blog- so glad to have found yours! Like you, I am pretty sure people were giving me weird looks about my old phone. I finally caved this summer and got a smart phone when my contract was up. I am annoyed by the parents I see on their phones too, although it is so, so tempting. I have a very minimal plan for 3G service, so I’m much less tempted to use it when we’re out. I usually check email briefly and leave it at that.
    My daughter (2) quickly figured out how much of my attention can be given to the phone, and she is not a fan so I do my best to leave it in another room when I’m playing with her… fascinating discussion!

  21. Sarah- I feel the same way! It hurts my feelings when friends do that while we are spending time together. I think maybe I’m ultra-sensitive to it because I have so little time to connect with adults lately that I want a little love with some eye contact thrown in for good measure.

  22. This is a great discussion! I am guilty of checking my iphone when I’m with the kiddos. I have mostly gotten used to putting it away around them because they want to play with it if they see it, ha! So now I take pictures with it around them, and that’s about it. I do have to say that instagram is addicting, so stay away as long as possible!

  23. When I was a kid, my mom always brought a book or magazine with her when we were at the park. She did the exact same thing. “Mom! Mom! Look at this mom!” “Huh?” And then one of us would get hurt and finally she would look up from what she was reading. And then she spends all her time sitting on the front porch, either talking on the phone or talking to my stepdad or doing her sudoku and smoking cigarettes, letting my little brother do whatever he wants. He’s been watching South Park on Netflix and she doesn’t monitor that.

    Basically, smart phones just a new representation of an old problem.

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