No TikTok? No problem. Here's why you shouldn't rush to buy your child a phone.

The longer I am a mother, the more I find myself reflecting on my childhood and how it compares and contrasts with my daughters' lives.

So much is the same: picky eaters, feet that grow out of new shoes too fast, tears spilled over math homework and talks about who said what to whom on the playground.

But there is one thing that makes everything about being a kid so different today: cellphones.

Phones have changed how kids interact

When I was in third grade, about 1992, my small, private school in Denver had one big hulk of a computer that we wheeled around the whole building for each classroom to use.

Today, kids as young as 8 (or less) have social media accounts on their own smartphones, where they spend hours every day living entire lives in a 4x7 inch screen. Incessantly scrolling, chatting and comparing.

I get why parents want their kids to have phones: mainly to stay in touch. I also get that screen time for kids and teens means free time for us. When we are constantly being emailed and texted, when the demands to do so many things professionally and for our kids are at an all-time high, when we want a minute to scroll mindlessly as we descend down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest (or pick your poison), cellphones and tablets provide momentary respite from our overbooked days.

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And there's nothing new about warning of the dangers of cellphones for kids (or for us). But phones are so ubiquitous that we read the bad news about the latest study, feel guilty and quickly move on.

I want to remind you why we should be thinking, and talking, about our kids' cellphone use.

Phones are everywhere: 95% of teens say they have access to a cellphone, and 58% of teens report using TikTok daily, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey.

With that many kids online, that much of the time, our children are more exposed than ever to dangers they're not ready to guard themselves against: stolen identities, pornography, pedophilia, the list goes on.

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There's also the issue of how phones and social media make kids feel about themselves. In "The Conquest of Happiness," Bertrand Russell wrote: "The habit of thinking in terms of comparison is a fatal one."

But that's what social media is – one big social comparison. Who has a better body? Who has more money? Who has a more interesting life? More friends? More likes?

For teens and preteens with all the additional difficulties that accompany those years, that sounds like a heavy burden. And it is: Teen suicide rates are rising, and while social media isn't the only factor, in some cases we know it's a contributor.

Should kids be allowed to have phones?

I have other questions that the research doesn't answer.

What is smartphone use doing to kids' ability to be creative? How will that affect their capacity to deal with the parade of letdowns and monotony that is such a integral part of human existence? When our children grow up, will they be able to handle not being entertained? Will they be able to carry a conversation?

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Phones and kids should be an ongoing conversation in our homes. We should be talking about the dangers of addiction. We need to teach them that obsessing over other people's lives, or comparing themselves with another person they may or may not know, isn't healthy or helpful. We want to show them that being able to strike up, hold and gracefully walk away from a conversation is an art that needs practice. And they need to understand that being bored is OK.

Now, I am not a masochist – my kids have tablets that they watch movies and play games on. I am not saying kids should never have a phone or a tablet.

Carli Pierson's daughters play on their iPads in Colorado, in March of 2024.
Carli Pierson's daughters play on their iPads in Colorado, in March of 2024.

But kids and parents need to do more handholding and hugging, more talking and discussing, more daydreaming. We need to get back to resting in the grass and experiencing that peaceful feeling of watching the clouds float by. And we need fewer handheld objects to distract and entertain us.

Life is short, childhood is even shorter. Let's work harder to save our kids from a childhood spent inside a phone.

Carli Pierson is a digital editor at USA TODAY and a New York-licensed attorney.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Should kids be allowed to have phones? Here are things to consider